Ichabod Chapter 2

The Date

I found it extremely difficult not to bolt out the back door and spend the night in the woods; the thought of Zoe in the house alone with some strange guy was just enough to stop me. Just barely. My life was filled with irritating inconveniences centering around Zoe. Like the fact that, despite being two years older than her, we shared a birthday (I always suspected our parents lied about the date of Zoe’s birth to make celebrations easier) or that I really did love the little twerp, even though she was certainly the bane of my existence. Zoe, of course, was well aware of the latter and often played on it to my detriment-which was why she was the bane of my existence.

I sat on my unmade bed. In, my half-cleaned room, and wondered what fresh torture Zoe had in mind for me tonight. I could hear her in the bathroom singing happily while she blow dried her hair. I had no doubt that she would remain there preparing for her “date” until just before six. I didn’t think for one minute she would allow me the opportunity to answer the door when her guest arrived. If only I could figure out what else she was up to, maybe then I wouldn’t feel so jittery and nervous. Or maybe it would only be worse-Zoe’s schemes were like that sometimes.

When the door bell finally rang, after what seemed like both an agonizingly lone time and un unbelievably short time, I was fervently praying to whatever gods were listening that I was being overly paranoid and Zoe just wanted to watch a movie with some boy she like from school.

The Gods hate me.

As I came down the stairs into the living room it was no boy I saw standing there hugging my little sister much too tightly with his hand in the small of her back, it was Chad Cheney, captain of the swim team. The guy was a freaking sculpture: a blonde-haired, blue eyed, tanned sculpture. The guy was freaking rich, his parents house was a square foot shy of officially being a mansion. Every girl in school, my school, high school, swooned over this freaking guy. But besides all of that, the guy was a freaking senior. It’s one thing to know that seniors routinely ask out your little sister, it’s quite another thing to find out one of them is actually dating your little sister. The guy was a freaking dead man. My blood-pressure spurted up like an out-of-control oil well and my fists clenched of the own volition.

At least he had the decency to look ashamed when he saw me standing there. “Uh, Ichabod, what’s up bro?” He asked, his eyes firmly on the floor.

“What’s up bro?” I parroted in disbelief with all the venom I felt building up inside of me. Was he really that stupid? I had never taken him for the stereo typical dumb jock. Did he not realize he was older than ME and he was dating my LITTLE sister? I had never been in a fight before, and something told me Chad was not my smartest choice for an inaugural bout, but….I could hit him with a shovel. Hadn’t I decided earlier there must be a shovel around the house somewhere? I quickly scanned the living room, as if I might actually find one propped up in a corner, and only got more angry when I didn’t see one. I felt…..something….inside me stretch taut, like it was about to snap…..

With three quick strides Zoe was there in front of me, both hands flat on my chest. “Itch? Take a breath.” She was whispering up at me. “We’re not going out anywhere, we’re going to be right here where you can see us the whole time.” She sounded as though that was perfectly reasonable. “Please calm down.”

“Zee, do you realize he’s a senior?” I growled. Without waiting for an answer, I looked up to glare at Chad over Zoe’s head. “Do you realize she’s only fourteen? “I could feel myself losing control, that…thing…inside me felt like it was starting to rear at the edges. It felt so similar to my unexplainable rages, yet different in some fundamental way.

Chad grimaced, still staring at his feet. And answered in a ragged whisper, just barely loud enough to me to hear. “I know. But there’s something….I can’t explain it.”

I looked back down at Zoe in time to see her brow furrow and her bottom lip tremble before she composed herself. Every muscle in my body tightened as I prepared to launch myself at him. Zoe’s hands balled up into two tiny fists, gripping my t-shirt, and her wide eyes narrowed.

“Itch.”

My only response was a thunderous bass ripping out of my throat.

“Itch, you’re scaring me.”

And Just like that, my anger dissipated. I never wanted Zoe to be afraid of me, not really. I immediately felt horrible, wiping away any vestige of the rising rage. The rapidity of the emotional shift left me slightly dizzy.

I hugged her fiercely for a moment, then pushed her out to arm’s length. “I’m sorry.” I apologized. Looking into her eyes so she would know how much I meant it.

She released a tiny sigh and stepped in to pat me lightly on the chest, but when she spoke her eyes and voice blazed-and not with fear. “If you EVER…EVER…” She choked, seeming unsure of how to continue, her diminutive body shaking with the intensity of her fury. Much as I hated to admit it, I may have been intimidated. The tiniest twinge of intimidation. Almost nonexistent.

“Come on, Ichabod, come show me where the popcorn is.” Erin was there, suddenly, leading me by the hand towards the kitchen. Where had she come from? And how had I not noticed her? Everything was happening too fast. I needed a quiet space to process all of the emotions. There was far too much emoting.

“Holy crap.” I breathed as I got a good look at her.

Her dark brown hair was pulled up in a loose bun, with two strands left free to fall on either side of her face. She was wearing tiny diamond studs in ears that seemed just a little too long, they gave her a slightly elfin look I had always found captivating. Her dress, the same blue as my car, tied up behind her neck and clung to her in ways that made my mouth dry. Before I could stop myself, I had reached out, cupping my hand around her cheek, and turned her face up. The blush had brought out the color of her eyes. As if she needed it. Those eyes….totally not helping with the emoting.

“I’m sorry.” I apologized quickly and pulled my hand away with a jolt. Great. I was on a real roll tonight-threatening Chad, scaring Zoe, embarrassing Erin, maybe for a finale I’d save everyone a lot of grief and set myself on fire.

“Are you okay?’ she asked, her eyes ticking back and forth between mine.

There was that question again. Again I felt he weird urge to tell her the truth. I took a deep breath and sighed. “I really don’t know anymore.”

“You look like you need some popcorn.” She said, the wisp of a smile lighting her face, as she pulled me to the microwave.

“Yeah, that oughta do it.” I smiled back and reached up in to the cupboard above the counter, grabbing a box filled with folded paper bags. I could feel Erin’s eyes on me as I popped a bag into the microwave. I set the timer. I leaned forward on the counter. I looked into the back corner of the cupboard’s underside checking for spider webs. Finally I worked up the courage to turn around, sure enough, she was watching me and biting her lower lip. I wondered if she realized just how irresistible she looked when she did that.

“What?” I asked self-consciously.

“You’re kind of intense,” she answered absently. Continuing to stare at me.

“As usual, I didn’t know what to say. So, I admitted, “I’m not sure what you mean.”

At first, I didn’t think she was going to elaborate. She just stood silently staring at me and chewing on her lip, but then her eyes focused tightly on mine. “You saved me from that dog today and I didn’t tell anyone because it didn’t seem real. You moved so fast, and the look in your….I’ve never seen anyone who looks like you. You always seem to be in the throes of some deep emotion, it shows in your eyes more than anything else. It’s why Zoe worries about you so much.” Her voice was quiet as she explained. “It makes you mysterious…and a little scary.”

I was shocked. Sure I scared myself. I was terrified of whatever was happening with these fits of rage. But the idea that anybody else would be scared of me….then again, hadn’t I scared Zoe tonight? It made me uncomfortable that other people could see my inner turmoil.

“Are you trying to tell me you think I’m interesting?” I joked, my lame attempt to ignore the direction my thoughts were taking, maybe lighten the mood-something I didn’t usually care about.

“Ichabod.” She laughed, “you are the only guy in town a girl would never have to lose sleep over, worrying you were going to dump her for Zoe. That alone makes you interesting.” She was laughing, so I couldn’t be sure, but I thought she might really mean what she was saying.

“I never thought of it like that.” I chuckled dispelling some of my unease. “I guess I’m the town’s most eligible bachelor. “

“So you can laugh.”

Occasionally,” I allowed. When had this gotten easy?

The microwave’s beeping sounded like a klaxon as it shattered the magic of our moment and making us both jump. An awkwardness insinuated itself into the proceeding silence. I remembered suddenly that this wasn’t a date, it wasn’t even a chance meeting; Zoe had planned the entire charade.

“So is that how Zoe convinced you to come tonight? By selling you on my virtue as the only guy around who couldn’t possible want her?” I hoped I didn’t sound as bitter as I felt.

“She tried to.” Erin almost smiled, then looked down at her feet. “But it was the little things that made me decide to come, the way you always wait to make sure Zoe gets inside safely whenever you drop her off anywhere, how careful you are around anyone smaller than you, that you saved my life today, stuff like that.”

Wow. I….wow. “Erin, look I know that despite anything else, you’re here because Zoe asked you to come…” I trailed off, trying to find the right words. How was I supposed to tell her I was happy she was there anyway? Preferably without sounding like an idiot.

“Yeah, she’s pretty convinced that we’re perfect for each other.” She sighed without any hint of how she felt.

“THERE IS A VERY TINY PERSON STARVING IN HERE!” Zoe yelled from the living room.

Erin and I shared a brief smile while I grabbed the popcorn and poured it into a big bowl. I walked into the living room to find Chad and Zoe on the couch together, his arm around her as she leaned into him with her hand on his chest. Chad. My body stiffened with a pulse of anger – I had somehow managed to forget about Chad. Then Erin was beside me, wrapping her arm through mine, and I melted, allowing her to lead me to the couch. Damn, I was really easy.

Well, easy I might be, but there was still enough ire in me to look over Erin and ask Zoe with mock sweetness, “Does Dad know about this?”

The idea obviously horrified her, “NO!” she exclaimed, then smiled and mimicked my sweet tone, “But Mom is fine with it. She likes Chad.”

Damn. If Mom really knew about Chad and approved, I was overruled. It also meant that if I told Dad I would have to deal with the wrath of Mom – a shudder – inducing thought.

Chad looked over at me cautiously. “Ichabod, dude, I think it’s totally cool the way you look out for you little sis, but I swear, me and Zoe don’t do anything but hang out.” I’m sure he meant for the stupid smile on his face to be sincere, it just made me want to hit him. Zoe punched him in the stomach and, while I’m certain he barely felt it, he flinched and took the hint to shut up.

The movie started and, against my better judgement, I reached back behind me and flipped the light switch off. Everyone settled in to watch. Everyone except me. I was busy making sure Chad was keeping his hands where I could see them but, as hard as I fought it, I started to become more and more aware of Erin sitting next to me. Chaperoning was hard. I tried to divide my attention equally between watching Chad and staring at Erin. I knew from the start I was fighting a losing battle. A half hour into the movie Erin took me by the hand and guided my arm over her shoulder as she snuggled into me. After that I completely forgot about Mr. Swimteam. All of my senses focused tightly on Erin. A light cinnamon scent was coming off of her, making it almost impossible for me to think straight. How did she always manage to smell like food? I couldn’t believe how soft her skin was, feeling her warmth against me had my pulse pounding. I watched her watching the movie and wondered why I had never before noticed how the corners of her eyes would crinkle slightly when she smiled or how she would scrunch up her nose when she saw something she didn’t like.

Get ahold of yourself, Ichabod, I mentally chastised myself – you’re starting to cross over into boy-band territory here. I had nearly gotten a handle on myself when Erin reached her arm around me, pulling her legs up underneath her, and readjusted her head on my chest. At that point all thought fled and dove into a foxhole as my mind became a battleground between manners and instincts. I never imagined that simply sitting could be so exhausting. I was even starting to sweat. With her head on my chest I was sure Erin could hear my heart speeding and my breathing became panting. If I had been able to frame a single coherent thought I probably would have been terribly embarrassed. As it was, I could barely remember my own name – beyond Erin, the world ceased to exist.

I blinked a few times in surprise and confusion when the lights came back on. I looked up in time to see Zoe smile at me over her shoulder as she carried the empty popcorn bowl into the kitchen. I felt the couch shift, Chad stretched. Everything seemed intrusive, too close with the lights back on. I tried to bring my focus back to Erin and while I didn’t find that the least bit difficult, it felt less complete than before. The only movement she made was her steady breathing. I thought she might have been asleep and desperately wished I could see her face.

I was just starting to relish the thought of spending the night right there, when she rolled her whole body over so she could look up at me. “Did you like the movie?” she asked.

Our faces were inches apart, making it very difficult to pay attention. Had she just asked me something? Something about a movie? “What movie?”

She leaned back to look at me more fully, her eyes sweeping over my face, and then a small smile set those eyes to twinkling. “I’ve seen you staring at me in class.” Her eyes held mine, giving me the strangest feeling – like I was having an out of body experience.

“Do you know, I have always thought that if the oceans were perfectly still, they would be the same color as your eyes.” Wait, What? I’m pretty sure that hadn’t been what I meant to say at all.

“Dude, that was the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.” Chad. But I found it surprisingly easy to ignore him with Erin so close.

She was looking at me like she had never seen me before, those eyes combing my face, their glorious light green color sparkling with some mysterious emotion. She was leaning towards me, her lips slightly parted and her eyes closing. I felt one quick stab of panic, then instinct won the war, crushing every thought but my need for her. I pulled her to me, the taste of her lips lifting me away on hurricane force winds – I had only believed I was floating before, now I was soaring! At first the kiss was shy, became tentative, but it seemed to ignite something deep within both of us and, as our breathing began to come in rapid gasps, the kiss became more urgent.

Someone cleared their throat loudly. Several times.

When I could actually bother to notice anything going on around me, which only became possible because Erin had pulled away. I realized we were completely wrapped around each other. A deep blush burned my skin, possibly matching the dark crimson which blazed her complexion to dusk. It was only her obvious embarrassment stopping me from kissing her again. I had a stray thought that if I immersed myself that deeply in her again I might never find my way back to the surface of her fathomless seas. It only made me want to kiss her more. Erin slowly disentangled herself and stood, still blushing, to straighten her dress. A great sense of loss swept over me once we were no longer touching, it felt close to despair. I tried to tell myself I was being ridiculous, but myself didn’t believe me. The truth was, I had no idea what was happening to me, I had no experience with this sort of thing. Maybe I really was being ridiculous. How would I know? The only thing I was absolutely certain about was that, right there in that moment, I didn’t want to feel any other way.

Mumbling something which, for some reason, sounded like an apology, Erin spun and qucily followed Zoe into the kitchen. I sat there, staring after her, while I tried to make sense of the thoughts tumbling through my head.

“Uh…dude?” Chad. It was a measure of my euphoria that I didn’t feel the slightest twinge of anger at the sound of his voice.

“What?” I asked without looking at him.

“Are we cool?”

Maybe I had always given her too much credit in the intelligence department. Maybe he was just the stereotypical dumb jock.

“Not a chance,” I answered simply, still not looking at him. However, I didn’t actually have to see him to sense he had more he wanted to say. Probably some lame justification. I wasn’t willing to trust my self-control that far, and I really didn’t want to hear it anyway. I got up and followed the girls into the kitchen before he could work himself up to whatever it was.

Zoe and Erin were standing at the sink with their heads together, whispering, when I walked in. Their quiet conversation ceased as soon as they noticed me and both gave me hard stare only marginally softened by their twin blushes. I immediately turned on my heel and walked back to the couch. Inexperienced I might be, but I wasn’t such a fool that I wanted to deal with whatever that had been about. At least Chad didn’t try to talk to me again.

The girls remained in the kitchen for the better part of an hour, only the occasional giggle giving evidence of their continued presence. For some inexplicable reason I started to get nervous. The few glances I made towards Chad showed me he wasn’t feeling any better than I was. I didn’t know if I should find that reassuring or not.

When the girls finally did emerge, they came together – practically walking in step – and wearing the same small smile. I wondered if Erin was exaggerating her walk on purpose or if it was just my imagination; it didn’t matter, either way, I was enjoying the spectacle. Erin’s slow, seductive steps brought her right in front of me, where she settled down into my lap and hung an arm around my neck. It was impossible to figure out which would kill me first – my brain exploding or my heart beating out of my chest.

“Will you walk me out to my car?” she asked looking down at her finger, idly running up and down my chest.

My mouth was so dry I wasn’t sure if I would be able to answer, so I simply nodded. Her responding smile was dazzling, making her leaving an almost physically painful event – so much so, that when she tried to stand I held her fast and picked her up, cradled in my arms, to carry her to the front door. I was feeling pretty proud of myself and I swung open the door, no easy feat with Erin in my arms, and carried her outside. I actually managed to make it without stumbling, falling or dropping her. She giggled softly into my shoulder and I felt myself smile in response, it felt oddly unfamiliar on my face – almost as if I had never really smiled before. My first real smile. I chuckled at the realization.

“What’s funny?” she asked.

“I’m happy.”

“And that’s funny.” She didn’t make it a question, though she seemed to be struggling to understand.

“Not funny exactly, just surprising. Happiness I rare for me. I guess I haven’t had enough practice with it to recognize it right away.” I chuckled again at the absurdity of the statement and the almost casual honesty she seemed to be engendering in me.

“So, I make you happy.” She seemed delighted with this news, her smile stretching across her face and her eyes sparkling again just like they had right before we kissed. The memory of that kiss got my pulse racing. I started walking again before she could feel the acceleration.

She sighed when I set her down in front of her mother’s mini-van. I might have signed too, I felt like sighing, I just hoped that if I did she hadn’t noticed. WE stood there, staring into each other’s eyes, while somewhere behind me Chad and Zoe murmured their good-byes. Very slowly, Erin reached up on her toes and kissed me gently – I wanted desperately to give in to the inferno inside me, to consume it and be consumed by it. Instead, I exerted great effort and managed to restrain myself, allowing her to pull away after the briefest of moments. Her eyes never left mine. There seemed to be a sudden wariness in those eyes that I couldn’t explain. Did I look angry? I tried to smile. It fell off.

“Are you okay?” She asked me for the second time that night.

“I’m fine,” I mumbled, trying not to blush for the millionth time that night. She looked away, frowning. I instantly felt like an idiot of course. I was going to have to figure out how to stop hurting her feelings if this was going to work. I really wanted this to work. “It’s just that, well…” I struggled to find the words which would make me feel better. “I’m just nervous. I’m afraid of doing something that’ll scare you off.” There. The truth had worked well so far, it seemed to be our thing, so I was only mildly surprised when she smiled. It still knocked me breathless though.

“You’re a surprisingly sweet guy.” This time I couldn’t stop the heat flooding up my neck and bathing my face. She laughed as she touched my burning cheek with her fingertips. I thought she might say something more, but apparently, she changed her mind because after leaning in for another quick kiss she climbed into the mini-van. I was still collecting my scattered thoughts as she pulled away.

I stood in the front yard looking after her until her taillights disappeared into the night.

When I stumbled inside, feeling like I had just awoken from a dream, I found Zoe standing in the middle of the living room with a smug expression on her face. “Have fun?”

It seemed absurd trying to deny what must have been painfully obvious, so I didn’t bother. “Yes,” I answered.

“And…”

“And you are beyond any shadow of a doubt the best, smartest, most beautiful little sister in the history of the world.” I even managed to it without a trace of sarcasm. She deserved it.

“Thank you.” She bowed her head graciously, the picture of royalty. “Now,” a familiar mischievous spread across one side of her face as she looked up, “maybe we can talk about your wardrobe.”

“Don’t press your luck, twerp.” I tried to sound irritated, but couldn’t manage it so I settle for stomping off into the kitchen. Zoe followed me, unperturbed.

“Aw, come on Itch,” she whined, “I’ll be fun.”

“Absolutely not.” I hid my smile by busying myself putting coffee on. I was reasonably sure she was only teasing me, but I couldn’t be certain. It was better to play it safe and give her no reasons to claim a victory. Especially on this subject.

“I bet Erin would like it.”

I couldn’t help but laugh at that one. “Forget it. Besides, things seemed to go just fine tonight without designer clothing.”

“That’s true,” she allowed, though she sounded astonished. It probably caused her to question her world view. Finally, she shook her head, as if trying to dislodge an unsettling thought. “Doesn’t matter,” she muttered with mild annoyance, only causing me to laugh harder.

“Just be satisfied that, for once, I’m grateful for your meddling,” I suggested when my prolonged laughing caused her to scowl. “Besides, all of the frowning is going to give you wrinkles.” Her face smoothed instantly, almost launching me back into hysterics – I mastered composure this time. I was having a good night and really didn’t want to ruin it with a fit of itching.

“You and Erin really do make a cute couple.” She smiled and I knew that I was forgiven, though I doubted she would forget about her fashion make-over. At least I had been granted a temporary reprieve. “You should call her tonight.”

“Now? Zoe, she’s probably not even home yet.”

“Itch, I realize mom and dad have kept this house locked in the stone age, but the rest of the world has advanced beyond worshipping fire and the land-line. Erin has a cell phone.”

Right. Duh. I could totally call her tonight. In fact, I could totally call her right then. My heart did a little leaping fist pump. Maybe a ‘yipee’. A dignified ‘yipee’. “You don’t think it’s too soon?”

“Do you care?”

WE were standing across the kitchen table from each other, smiling, when I heard glass shatter in the living room. Zoe’s head snapped in the direction of the noise and the back to me. “ITCH RUN!” She screamed and threw herself to the floor as a spinning ball of crackling blue light flew through the space her had had just occupied. The ball of light crashed into the back door, smashing the window and setting the frilly curtains on fire.

I vaulted over the table and set myself between Zoe and whatever had attacked her. A small corner of my mind that was somehow retaining its grasp on rational thought assured me I was dreaming. That made sense to me. Where else, but in a dream, do balls of lightning fly around. For that matter, where else but in a dream do I have a date with Erin Madrugada? Dreams, no matter how vivid, I can handle. Reality’s the problem. So, the realization the whole night was a dream was a relief and a disappointment, but it certainly wasn’t a surprise.

Standing amid the broken glass, knees slightly bent, hands arced into claws, was a stocky man with close cropped blonde hair and icy blue eyes glowing with demonic energy. His eyes were glowing. The wind, blowing in from the broken window behind him, whipped the flimsy lace curtains around his arms and legs. His eyes narrowed as he stared at me and I felt the world give an odd jump in his direction. Blue sparks leapt from his fingertips to form balls of energy in his palms. It suddenly hit me that only a second had passed since Zoe’s scream, maybe only a fraction of that, and all the hair on my body stood at attention. I considered the possibility that is wasn’t a dream.

The smile splitting captain static’s blocky face was cold and unfriendly. “I never imagined I would get to kill two Cayce Pups.” His voice sounded husky and barely restrained excitement. “Your parents have been busy.”

It took me a beat to realize he was casually talking about murdering Zoe – when I did…that thing… inside of my body trembled with the strength of the rage filling it. It was like while heat pumping through my veins, spilling out through my pores. I was only vaguely aware of the light bulbs flickering, then popping, and showering me with their dying luminescence. The stranger’s smile slipped and slowly slid into a contortion of panicked horror. My trembling intensified, my inner fires consuming thought and fear and being, burning everything, me to ash. My vision leapt downward and forward as if the entire world were shaking apart.

The stranger threw his hands forward at the same moment the fires overwhelmed me and I screamed with anger and anguish beyond anything I had ever felt before. A blinding blue-white light invaded my vision, dominating all it touched, conquering eternity…vaporizing my blood…scorching my skin from bone…

When it at last faded away I could see nothing but black. I felt like I was falling, but slowly. From somewhere far away I could hear the cacophony of a thousand explosions…then Zoe’s voice, Itch?” why did she sound like she was crying? Was she okay? I tried to reach out, but my body couldn’t respond.

My last thought, before the blackness pulled me beneath it, was to wonder if I was dying. I was strangely calm about it, almost as if I had been expecting the other shoe to drop all night.

Advertisements

Ichabod conclusion Chapter one

When I pulled into the mall parking lot a dozen girls, ranging in age from thirteen-year-old classmates of Zoe to eighteen-year-old seniors, rushed up and broke over my car like a wave. All of them talking at once. Queen Zoe, benevolent monarch of the masses has arrived. I chuckled to myself, shaking my head, as I watched Zoe lead her entourage through the big glass doors into the mall. Once I was sure she had made it safely inside, I walked across the parking lot to the Bag N’Burger. I had a sudden, overwhelming, craving for a milkshake.

Inside, I was relieved to see that it was still early enough that the place was nearly empty-no lines and no screaming kids. Things were looking up. I vaguely recognized the guy manning the counter with his greasy black hair and pimple ravaged face, I probably had a class with him or something.

“Welcome to Bag N’Burger. What kin’ I do ya fer?” the kid recited shame faced. I treid to rein in my laugh, but couldn’t. One of the many reasons I loved the Bag N’Burger, and the main reason I never used the drive thru, as that every day the owner came up with a new slogan, and over time they had gotten more and more ridiculous. I almost felt bad for the kids working there, almost.

“Just a strawberry shake, extra thick, with a mighty straw.” The mighty straw was as wide as three normal straws and, aside from being the only possible way to drink an extra thick shake, was another of the reasons I love the Bag N’Burger.

“would you like diced fruit with that?” And that right there-the main reason I loved the Bag N’Burger and always got my shakes there. Any fruit you could imagine diced into delectable cubes so diminutive they melted on your toungue.

“Yeah,” I thought it over. “How about pear.”

As he rang up my order I couldn’t ignore the look of recognition washing over his face, like he was trying to remember who I was.

Here is comes, I thought and began the mental countdown at five.

“Hey, “ he said finally, waggling a finger at me. “Aren’t you Zoe Case’s brother? “

Damn. I had only gotten to two.

At the sound of Zoe’s name, multiple heads in hair nets and paper caps popped up from behind grills and around doors, all of them desperately scanning the area for my little sister.

“Yeah.” I answered, wondering where my milkshake was.

“Is she with you? “ He started looking around the practically vacant restaurant.

“um, no.” I was finding it especially hard not to ridicule this guy.

“Tell her I said hi, would you? “ he asked, passing my my milkshake at long last.

“No problem.” I grabbed the cup and bolted before the rest of the grease brigade could begin giving their messages.

“Tell her Kenny…” He yelled to my back as I passed through the exit.

I was already well on my way to forgetting all about Commander Zits by the time I got back to my car.

I swung the driver’s door open and sat with my feet on the asphalt to reduce the risk of spilling anything in my car. One day I was going to meet the founder of the Bag N’Burger and shake his hand. I noticed a few people gawking at me as they walked by. They must be wondering if I’m Zoe Cases’ brother, I thought with a smirk. It was more likely they were staring at my car-and really, who could blame them?

My father had earned my eternal gratitude when he unveiled the car on the morning of my sixteenth birthday. He told me he had gotten it cheap, but never said how cheap. I wondered how much money he made being a meteorologist. He wasn’t even the guy who reported the weather on the local news. Now that I thought about it, I had no idea what it was exactly my father did for a living. What does a meteorologist, who doesn’t report the weather do? I shrugged, figuring it probably wasn’t important, just one of the many things my parents never discussed. I had long since learned that asking my parents personal questions was a quick way to end up doing chores-their preferred method of changing the subject. Maybe they were fugitives. I shook my head and laughed aloud at the idea of my parents as dangerous criminals.

By the time I had wrung all of the entertainment value from my parents-on-the-lamb speculation I had also finished my milkshake. I threw the empty wax paper cup towards a bright orange metal drum siting a few feet away.

“And….he scores,” I punctuated triumphantly as the cup landed inside the drum with a satisfying clunk. I leaned back in my seat, closed my eyes, ad allowed my mind to wander. Maybe, if I could find a way to dampen her enthusiasm, it wouldn’t be so bad letting Zoe set me up with one of her friends, I mused…then stopped in horror. What was wrong with me? Maybe that milkshake had gone bad. Zoe meddled in my life more than I could stand already and she did it without even trying, if idea of actually giving her permission…..terrifying. I shuddered at the sudden mental image of me as one of Zoe’s happy little drones. I guess I can wait until College to date, I thought morosely, after all, there had to be someplace left on planet Earth where they had not yet heard of…..

MY thoughts were interrupted by a shadow that fell across me, blocking the sun. I felt the corners of my mouth turn down in irritation as I wondered which love sick moron had decided it was a good idea to ask the big brother if Zoe had a date for the dance yet-or whatever social function I was oblivious to was coming soon to a nightmare near me. I didn’t even bother opening my eyes because there was no other reason that anyone would approach me. I figured if I ignored him he would go away, eventually, which is why I was completely surprised to hear a familiar, and distinctly feminine voice.

“Nice car.”

I started, nearly falling out of the open car door, and turning to stare up into the clear light green eyes that had haunted my dreams almost every night. My parents had taken Zoe and me to Florida last summer and the gulf waters had been that exact shade of green. Erin Madrugada was, quite literally, the girl of my dreams. Or, at least, the eyes of my dreams. She was standing with one long smooth leg slightly bent behind the other, slowly digging the toe of her white sneaker into the blacktop. Her hands were folded at her waist, and she was biting her full bottom lip. A small part of my brain wondered why she looks so nervous, but the rest was too busy drinking in the sight of her to pay much attention. Her straight hair reached to just below her shoulders and was such a dark brown that it sometimes looked black. Her oval face, balanced right on the precipice between girl-next-door cute and Hollywood starlet beautiful, never failed to yank my breath away. My pulse picked up a notch as I noticed how her lightly caramel skin contrasted with her bright yellow mini shirt and v-neck t-shirt.

“um, thanks,” I responded a full second too late. I felt like I should be apologizing for staring, unfortunately I didn’t know how to do that without making a bigger idiot out of myself. Maybe she wouldn’t notice.

“I’m Erin.” She extended her hand towards me with a shy smile. Not only did she not know who I was, she didn’t even know I knew who she was.

I took her hand absently. I couldn’t fathom why she was speaking to me. We had been in science class together for two years running, and in that time, had never once said a word to each other. I realized I had started staring again and forced myself to stop.

“Ichabod.” I flushed a little at my stupid name. “So what kind of car is this?” she asked, leaning forward a little to look inside.

I barely heard her over the pounding of my heart. She smelled amazing-like butterscotch and vanilla. I think she might have said something more, but I couldn’t be sure, it was impossible to focus with her standing so close. I found myself ogling the thin slice of her flat belly that I could see beneath her shirt’s hem. I pulled my eyes back up to her face. It didn’t help. I was getting a little dizzy,

Everything started to look really far away. Then, just when I started to feel like my brain was about to shut off, it all suddenly made sense. Zoe.

The blood flowed back into my head with a flush of anger, allowing me to think a little more clearly. A very little. The twerp had set this up.

“Look Erin, “ I said, trying to keep my voice calm. “you don’t have to do this. I know Zoe put you up to it.” A look of profound relief streamed over her face and crashed among the jagged rocks of my broken heart. I had to admit, to myself at least, that look hurt-which of course only made me more angry.

“oh, thank God.” She laughed as she straightened and smoothed her shirt. “the look on your face…I thought you were going to bite my head off.”

I had looked angry? Well that’s probably because I was angry. Zoe wa going to pay for this. The back yard was plenty big enough and I was positive my father had a shovel somewhere around the house. I had Zoe buried up to her neck before I realized that Erin as still standing there. I glanced up to find her biting her lower lip again and scrutinizing me.

“Are you…” she stopped, going rigid as a resonant growl rolled menacingly from somewhere behind her. Oh so slowly, she turned and put her back against the car.

Standing there, with its head lowered and its teeth bared, was a smallish yellow dog. The kind of dog you normally was happily wagging its tail while a toddler yanks on its ears. This dog’s tail was not wagging. It interrupted its growling long enough to bark and hop forward, causing Erin to cringe. I scrambled out of the car, clumsily banging my knew on the open door. Time seemed to slow. I watched each muscle bunch as the dog rocked back onto its hind legs and then release as it launched itself forward. Between one heartbeat and the next panic turned to anger, and anger turned to action. Some sense within me I had never before been aware of stretched taut. My fist smashed against the side of the dog’s jaw, sending it sailing away to crash into a heap on the ground. I stood between it and Erin, wondering how I had gotten there. I watched the dog pick itself up on shaky legs. I clenched my fist anticipating another attack. It whined once and looked at me, with what I would have sworn was betrayal, as it limped away. “what the hell was that? “I asked no one in particular. It had all happened so fast that, except for the adrenaline flooding through my, it might have all happened in my head. Man, that was all I needed on top of everything-to be hallucinating too. “Are you okay?” Erin asked, erminding me she was there.

“Yeah.” I rasped. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, Thank you. Dogs have never liked me, but I’ve never had one try to attack me before.”

“My mother has that same problem.” Why would I mention my mother at a time like this? I felt myself blush and climbed back into the car to hide my face.

“Are you sure that you’re alright?”

I had the strongest urge to tell her the truth. To tell her no. To spill my guts about my frustration with Zoe and my fear about the unpredictable fits of rage. Maybe not the glowing eyes thing, but everything else. That milkshake rally must have gone bad. “Yeah,” I lied instead. “I’m okay. You don’t have to hang out. Zoe will understand, she knows what a jerk I am.”

She hesitated for a moment, flushing pink, before she whirled around and walked off in the opposite direction of the dog, towards the all with her hands folded behind her back to keep her skirt from bouncing up.

Why had she looked embarrassed? Must have been my imagination. The better question was, how had Zoe known about Erin Madrugada? It couldn’t be coincidence. Zoe was friends with every girl in town, what were the odds she had just randomly picked Erin?

Maybe if I beg and get a job to pay half of the tuition, I thought dejectedly. After all, how bad could military school actually be? I bet I could even find one where no one had ever heard of Zoe Case.

I could feel my anger building, despite my attempts to calm down and with it came the familiar urge to lash out violently. I gripped the steering wheel and concentrated on my breathing. My ears rang with the echo of blood charging through me. Sharp pains lanced through my temples. My muscles jumped, twitched, war danced. It took me a long time to regain control of myself. What if the next time it happened I couldn’t fight it down? What if that next time had happened moments before, with Erin standing there? The question rose unbidden in my mind and I shied away from even considering what the answer might be. I had turned the key in the ignition and roared out of the parking lot before I fully realized what I was doing. I was making a run for it. How do you run from yourself? I was sick of asking questions I didn’t have answers to, so I slipped a cd into the stereo and cranked the volume all way up in an attempt to drown the noise in my head. The sounds of the 80’s speed metal band Tread Marks blasted through the speakers as the car blasted through the tranquility of the highway. I didn’t bother to glance at the speedometer or to notice where I was going. What did it matter? Did anything really matter?

Sadly, the answer was yes. There were things that did matter. Things that mattered more than my anger or confusion-things that mattered more than me.

I sighed and let off the gas. Zoe needed a ride home, and besides, totaling my car wouldn’t solve any of my problems. Knowing my luck, I’d probably survive the wreck. Then I would still have to deal with all the same crap….without my car.

I pulled back into the mall parking lot filled with a hopeless desperation, my world was drowning in it. I couldn’t explain the sensation and didn’t try in any case. Life sucks, every body knows it, you just have to deal with it. So, I’d deal with it. Somehow. I felt drained, exhausted, so I leaned back and closed my eyes. I tried to clear my mind, concentrate on my breathing, I wanted nothing so much as I have all feeling erode away into the ocean of blackness behind my closed eyes……

 

 

I was pretty sure I was dreaming, either that or I had completely lost my mind. I was standing in a desolate wasteland that stretched out in all directions. Unrolled into forever. The sky above me was pitch, with only the occasional flash of lightning to illuminate the roiling mass of storm clouds that swirled there. The entire landscape glowed with a soft gray light I could feel on my skin; it felt slick, like oil, and cold. Something about this place made me feel angry and powerful. Like a vengeful God.

I took a step forward expecting to hear the crunch of dirt beneath my boot. But there was no sound-no crunch of dirt, no whoosh of wind, and no crack of thunder. I knew all of these things were present, I could feel them, but their voices were absent. Mine was not. I inhaled deeply, the sulphurous air burning my lungs, and screamed-a primal roar containing all of my fears, longings, and frustrations. Not all of my anger though, there seemed too much of it to ever give away, to ever spend itself out. I wanted to cry. I wanted to laugh.

In the distance I could see someone striding towards me. Even from so far away I could tell their steps were filled with confidence and purpose. A growl like the sundering of continents rolled out from my chest and I charged towards the figure, the energy, just as it began to charge towards me. I ran with the relentless determination of time, each stride propelling me forward over ground as lifeless as I felt inside. There was something familiar about my energy, something about his balled fists, his frenzied charge, the flashing light in his eyes. Too late I recognized the figure, too late I recognized myself.

Too late to stop.

I crashed into my enemy, into myself, with an impact that caused the world around us to shudder. An impact shattering us both like glass…….

I awoke with a gasp, covered in sweat, and heart pounding out a Tread Marks drum solo. The nightmare hadn’t just been weird and terrifying-it had also been incredibly vivid.

It was about an hour later when Queen Zoe led her court, now numbering closer to two dozen, out of the mall. I was still so disturbed by my nightmare it took me a minute to remember that I was supposed to be mad at her, Zoe’s friends split off from her, waving good bye, before she got to the car. An early separation could only mean one thing-they knew I was angry. Great. If military school was too expensive Maybe I could convince my parents to let me just join the military. I could lie about my age and, you never know, maybe I would get lucky ad somebody would shoot me. Hopefully I could find a way to pull of this off before the entire town found out abut my little sister forcing Erin to talk to me. Knowing Zoe and her friends, it was probably already too late.

When Zoe opened the door and slid into the passenger seat her look of doe-eyed innocence was so adorably comical I started laughing and gave up trying to reignite my anger at her. Amazing, I marveled, even though I know better, the brat still manages to work her magic on even me sometimes.

“What?” She asked.

“You’re a very cute little brat.”

“Thank you.”

Since I had decided to forgive her, I figured it was best if I didn’t bring up the Erin incident, it would only make her angry again, so I drove in silence while Zoe played with the radio tuner. When she finally settled on a station she turned the volume almost all of the way down.

“Spit it out, Zee”, I prompted when she seemed to hesitate.

“Are mom and dad coming home tonight?”

That had not been what I was expecting at all, and it caught me off guard. “Uh, no. Tomorrow night.” How could she not know that?

“Oh.” She seemed to withdraw into herself, deep in thought, lightly tapping her chin with a finger. “Where did they go again?”

“Some bed and breakfast upstate, I forget where.” I answered, starting to get suspicious. Zoe always knew more about our parents’ travel plans that I did. She was obviously up to something. My tone must have tipped her off to the direction of my thoughts because she immediately resumed her her innocent face. “Forget it, twerp.” I said with mild irritation. “You already got one freebie today, so whatever it is you’re up to – just forget it.”

“Up to?” She asked in mock astonishment, raising one tiny hand to rest lightly on the hollow of her neck. “I’m not up to anyth-“ She cut off, reaching for the radio and turning up the volume with one hand while using the other to wave me to silence – as if I had been the one talking.

“…incation goes out to Ichabod from Erin. She wants to thank you for saving her and she hopes you’re feeling better.” The DJ’s voice blared out of the speakers over top of the introduction of some bubbly pop song I would never listen to, but which was probably a play list favorite among Zoe and her friends. This week, anyway.

“Zoe…” I groaned, reaching over and switching off the radio. “Leave Erin alone.”

“I had nothing to do with this.” She insisted angrily. For a brief moment I almost believed her. Thin I remembered who it was I was dealing with.

“Oh, I see.” I said, my voice dripping with sarcasm. “You just happened to know that Erin would dedicate a song to me. On this station. At this exact time. Makes sense.”

“Well, of course she told me what she was going to do.” Zoe rolled her eyes was she explained. “Otherwise, how could she be sure you would hear it?” She smiled, obviously pleased with her logic. Clever little twerp. I had to give her credit, though. She had apparently covered all of her bases. Of course, it didn’t matter what story she came up with, I could see her fingerprints all over this.

“I’m not stupid, Zoe. Erin and I have never spoken one word to each other before today, the same day you suddenly decide I need a girlfriend.” There, let’s see her wiggle her way out of that one.

“You really hurt her feelings today.” I felt my heart wrench as a riptide of guilt pulled me under. Good wiggling.

“What are you talking about?” My voice sounded wrong, slightly horse for some reason.

“She was flirting with you and you shot her down.” She answered, seeming oblivious to my reaction.

“Because you told her to flirt with me!” I tried sounding angry, but only succeeded in sounding miserable.

“No, I didn’t.” She responded too quickly. Then she smiled and asked, “So you think Erin’s pretty then?”

She had asked the question innocently, as if I wouldn’t know it was a loaded gun aimed straight at every one of my vital organs. “That’s not my point, Zee.”

“Is that a yes?”

She waited patiently, keeping her smile locked on me, until I finally just gave up and admitted the truth. “Yes. Okay? Erin’s pretty, she’s beautiful, that’s not the point. I don’t want pretty girls flirting with me because you told them to.”

“So what you’re saying is that if I hadn’t said anything about fixing you up this morning then you would have asked Erin out?”

“Yes.” I answered after a moment’s consideration.

“Liar. You’ve been in her class for two years and never even introduced yourself.”

“Okay, fine. Maybe I wouldn’t have, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m never going to be ale to show my face in school again.”

“Don’t be melodramatic.” She chided. “How do you know that Erin didn’t already like you and just needed some prompting? You’re not exactly the easiest person in the world to approach.” That was probably as close to an admission of guilt as I was likely to get. I could feel the incredulity on my face. Was this really the angle she was going to play? Did she really think I was dumb enough to believe that Erin Stevens had been harboring a secret crush on me? I concentrated on my driving, trying very hard not to lose my temper. Thankfully, Zoe seemed to sense this and let me be, for once.

After we got home I sat along in the car for a long time, debating on whether or not to just drive off into the sunset; just me and my car. I was more rational than I had been earlier, when I’d had similar thoughts, so I couldn’t ignore the fact that I didn’t have much money and probably wouldn’t make it very far. Why did there always have to be another sunrise?

Zoe was waiting for me, hands on hips, when I walked through the front door.

“Just leave me alone, Zee.” I complained without much hope she would actually listen to me.

Her eyes squinted and her mouth pressed down into a tight line. That was the only warning I got before my entire body itched. I felt like I was wearing a wool straight jacket. “You ARE going to listen to me.” She enunciated each word slowly. “Sitting in your room by yourself all of the time isn’t healthy. I can’t even imagine how lonely it must be, constantly living in a bubble – yet you choose to. You refuse to make friends, you refuse to go to parties, and now you’re refusing ERIN?” She was practically screaming at me by the end and took a deep breath, then started again more calmly. “I don’t understand. I don’t understand your anger, and I don’t understand your depression. I’m trying to help you. You’re my big brother and I love you, Itch.”

I had no idea how to respond to any of that, and for once I was glad for the excuse of being too busy scratching to for a coherent answer. My throughs must have been clear on my face because Zoe relaxed her stance slightly and loosened her drawn face, the itching vanish instantly. Along with my excuse. I really had to figure out how she did that.

“I’m not lonely or depressed.” My voice sounded defensive, though I hadn’t meant it to. I really wasn’t lonely or depressed. Definitely not. I was sure of it.

She continued to glare and I braced myself for another wave of itching, but she merely threw up her hands and stalked away, muttering something about me being difficult.

I wasn’t sure how to feel about her little speech. Angry? Of course I was angry, she was meddling in my life; but I didn’t think I was depressed. Who wanted to go to parties where you didn’t know anybody? Who wanted friends that would spend all of their time ogling your little sister? And did she really think that I would believe her story about Erin Madrugada, she could have any guy she wanted. Well, she could if Zoe lived in another county – but still, it wasn’t like Zoe could date every guy in town. Not all at once, anyway. I knew that none of my mental protestations mattered. Zoe was tenacious: once she got an idea stuck in her head she never gave up on it. Erin and I were doomed to suffer through a lot more awkward moments. I wondered if it was sick that a small part of me looked forward to the next one.

I needed a distraction – fast. Well, I thought glumly, I could always clean my room. It wsn’t my greatest or most thrilling idea ever, but it was slightly less miserable than standing there brooding, and so was an improvement of my circumstances. Hurrying upstairs, I kicked enough of the mess out of the way to allow to close the door, then carefully made my way to the pile of clothes which I was reasonably sure covered my stereo. After some digging, I was rewarded for my keen memory with not only my stereo, but also a shoe box of CDs. I put on my favorite Neon Black album and stood in the middle of the room, taking that moment to simply soak in the music. The sounds of a feminine voice weaving beautifully ribbons around raging guitar riffs filled the small space.

It was an incredibly mind-numbing chore, separating the clothing into piles – clean and dirty – and I quickly left my anger and embarrassment behind. I was amazed at how fast I had gotten all of the rumpled clothing packed up, revealing tiny islands of green carpet and stacks of discarded CDs. I stuffed the clean pile into my trunk and grabbed the much larger pile of dirty clothes for transfer to the laundry room.

On my way through the kitchen I passed Zoe, who had reconnected with the phone and was whispering furiously with one hand cupped over the receiver. Probably some boy problem with one of her friends. Such arguments were common enough occurrences, as some boy one of Zoe’s friends liked would, inevitably, be more interested in Zoe. Nobody ever asked Zoe to talk to a boy for them. It wasn’t the twerp’s fault, but I still felt kind of bad for a lot of the girls; the irony of watching them cry on Zoe’s shoulder after they were done screaming and yelling at her was painful. I imagined it must have been hard for those girls knowing they had to compete with Zoe for the attention of every eligible bachelor in town, especially if they realized that she wasn’t even trying. It must have been really frustrating for the girls who were older than Zoe. It always surprised me that not one of those girls ever waged a smear campaign against Zoe. Sure, they would show up at the house to cry, scream, and yell at her – right before they forgave her – but they never started any nasty rumors. It seemed to be a common enough tactic among teenaged girls, judging from some of the things I had seen on the internet and bathroom walls at school. But everyone loved Zoe too much to drag her name through the mud. It was kind of eerie now that I though about it, like they were automatons under her commad. Zoe the zombie queen.

I’ve been watching way too many B-horror movies, I chuckled to myself and finished loading the washing machine, throwing the rest of the dirty laundry into the hamper. I headed back to

ward my room, noticing Zoe – still on the phone – had visibly relaxed and was flipping through some DVDs spread out on the kitchen table. I suppose the crisis has been averted…brains for everybody!

I made it half-way up the stairs when Zoe’s call stopped my short. “Itch? Could you come down here for a sec?”

I briefly considered making a run for it, but where would I go? I instinctively know that whatever it was Zoe wanted, I wouldn’t like it. In the end, I settled for a sigh before turning around and trudging back into the kitchen.

“Your Highness.” I bowed deeply and took a seat across from her. I was surprised to see she wasn’t on the phone. Surprised and worried – this could only mean she expected an argument.

“Har-har.” She rolled her eyes, but then cleared her throat and put on a serious face. “Did you have plans tonight?”

“Is that what you were whispering about?” I asked. “Forget it. I’m not taking Erin out on some date you had to talk her into.”

“Geez, paranoid much? This has nothing to do with Erin.” Her voice and face were the very picture of innocence, which is why I was suspicious. As crazy as it was, I also felt disappointed this had nothing to do with Erin. Like I said, crazy.

“What, then?” I demanded.

“I want to invite someone over…I need a chaperone.” She actually blushed a little. Cold horror washed over me, this was far worse than anything I could have imagined. I was uncomfortable with guys asking me if Zoe had a date. I certainly didn’t want to play chaperone – ever, if at all possible, but especially not tonight.

“Why to you hate me?” I asked her seriously.

“So would you rather I have a boy over without supervision?” She arched an eyebrow. She had me there. I hung my head in defeat.

“What time?” I mumbled, still not looking up.

She squealed with delight and came around the table to hug me around the shoulders and kiss me on the cheek. “Six o’clock. You’re the best big brother ever!”

“Yeah.” I slid my head onto the table beneath my folded arms. How had it come to this? Even worse, that traitorous part of me which was disappointed this hadn’t had something to do with Erin was still pulsing away in the back of my mind. It occurred to me this was what Zoe’s questions about our parents had been about earlier. She must have known I would get suspicious, so she set up the radio dedication to distract me. Okay, that sounded paranoid even for me. But then, I couldn’t really put anything passed the clever little twerp, she had carried out far more elaborate plans in the past – nothing I could prove, of course, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t behind something.

What really worried me, though, was that she hadn’t tried to get me out of the house for her date. I had the sickening feeling she had just gotten me to volunteer for a trap and now I wouldn’t be able to avoid whatever it was she had planned since I was obligated to chaperone her and whatever boy-wonder she’d managed to rope into helping her. My inner traitor hoped this might still have something, anything, to do with Erin.

I should’ve driven off into the sunset when I’d had the chance.

 

 

 

 

Ichabod chapter 1 con’t.

When I pulled into the mall parking lot a dozen girls, ranging in age from thirteen-year-old classmates of Zoe to eighteen-year-old seniors, rushed up and broke over my car like a wave. All of them talking at once. Queen Zoe, benevolent monarch of the masses has arrived. I chuckled to myself, shaking my head, as I watched Zoe lead her entourage through the big glass doors into the mall. Once I was sure she had made it safely inside, I walked across the parking lot to the Bag N’Burger. I had a sudden, overwhelming, craving for a milkshake.

Inside, I was relieved to see that it was still early enough that the place was nearly empty-no lines and no screaming kids. Things were looking up. I vaguely recognized the guy manning the counter with his greasy black hair and pimple ravaged face, I probably had a class with him or something.

“Welcome to Bag N’Burger. What kin’ I do ya fer?” the kid recited shame faced. I treid to rein in my laugh, but couldn’t. One of the many reasons I loved the Bag N’Burger, and the main reason I never used the drive thru, as that every day the owner came up with a new slogan, and over time they had gotten more and more ridiculous. I almost felt bad for the kids working there, almost.

“Just a strawberry shake, extra thick, with a mighty straw.” The mighty straw was as wide as three normal straws and, aside from being the only possible way to drink an extra thick shake, was another of the reasons I love the Bag N’Burger.

“would you like diced fruit with that?” And that right there-the main reason I loved the Bag N’Burger and always got my shakes there. Any fruit you could imagine diced into delectable cubes so diminutive they melted on your toungue.

“Yeah,” I thought it over. “How about pear.”

As he rang up my order I couldn’t ignore the look of recognition washing over his face, like he was trying to remember who I was.

Here is comes, I thought and began the mental countdown at five.

“Hey, “ he said finally, waggling a finger at me. “Aren’t you Zoe Case’s brother? “

Damn. I had only gotten to two.

At the sound of Zoe’s name, multiple heads in hair nets and paper caps popped up from behind grills and around doors, all of them desperately scanning the area for my little sister.

“Yeah.” I answered, wondering where my milkshake was.

“Is she with you? “ He started looking around the practically vacant restaurant.

“um, no.” I was finding it especially hard not to ridicule this guy.

“Tell her I said hi, would you? “ he asked, passing my my milkshake at long last.

“No problem.” I grabbed the cup and bolted before the rest of the grease brigade could begin giving their messages.

“Tell her Kenny…” He yelled to my back as I passed through the exit.

I was already well on my way to forgetting all about Commander Zits by the time I got back to my car.

I swung the driver’s door open and sat with my feet on the asphalt to reduce the risk of spilling anything in my car. One day I was going to meet the founder of the Bag N’Burger and shake his hand. I noticed a few people gawking at me as they walked by. They must be wondering if I’m Zoe Cases’ brother, I thought with a smirk. It was more likely they were staring at my car-and really, who could blame them?

My father had earned my eternal gratitude when he unveiled the car on the morning of my sixteenth birthday. He told me he had gotten it cheap, but never said how cheap. I wondered how much money he made being a meteorologist. He wasn’t even the guy who reported the weather on the local news. Now that I thought about it, I had no idea what it was exactly my father did for a living. What does a meteorologist, who doesn’t report the weather do? I shrugged, figuring it probably wasn’t important, just one of the many things my parents never discussed. I had long since learned that asking my parents personal questions was a quick way to end up doing chores-their preferred method of changing the subject. Maybe they were fugitives. I shook my head and laughed aloud at the idea of my parents as dangerous criminals.

By the time I had wrung all of the entertainment value from my parents-on-the-lamb speculation I had also finished my milkshake. I threw the empty wax paper cup towards a bright orange metal drum siting a few feet away.

“And….he scores,” I punctuated triumphantly as the cup landed inside the drum with a satisfying clunk. I leaned back in my seat, closed my eyes, ad allowed my mind to wander. Maybe, if I could find a way to dampen her enthusiasm, it wouldn’t be so bad letting Zoe set me up with one of her friends, I mused…then stopped in horror. What was wrong with me? Maybe that milkshake had gone bad. Zoe meddled in my life more than I could stand already and she did it without even trying, if idea of actually giving her permission…..terrifying. I shuddered at the sudden mental image of me as one of Zoe’s happy little drones. I guess I can wait until College to date, I thought morosely, after all, there had to be someplace left on planet Earth where they had not yet heard of…..

MY thoughts were interrupted by a shadow that fell across me, blocking the sun. I felt the corners of my mouth turn down in irritation as I wondered which love sick moron had decided it was a good idea to ask the big brother if Zoe had a date for the dance yet-or whatever social function I was oblivious to was coming soon to a nightmare near me. I didn’t even bother opening my eyes because there was no other reason that anyone would approach me. I figured if I ignored him he would go away, eventually, which is why I was completely surprised to hear a familiar, and distinctly feminine voice.

“Nice car.”

I started, nearly falling out of the open car door, and turning to stare up into the clear light green eyes that had haunted my dreams almost every night. My parents had taken Zoe and me to Florida last summer and the gulf waters had been that exact shade of green. Erin Madrugada was, quite literally, the girl of my dreams. Or, at least, the eyes of my dreams. She was standing with one long smooth leg slightly bent behind the other, slowly digging the toe of her white sneaker into the blacktop. Her hands were folded at her waist, and she was biting her full bottom lip. A small part of my brain wondered why she looks so nervous, but the rest was too busy drinking in the sight of her to pay much attention. Her straight hair reached to just below her shoulders and was such a dark brown that it sometimes looked black. Her oval face, balanced right on the precipice between girl-next-door cute and Hollywood starlet beautiful, never failed to yank my breath away. My pulse picked up a notch as I noticed how her lightly caramel skin contrasted with her bright yellow mini shirt and v-neck t-shirt.

“um, thanks,” I responded a full second too late. I felt like I should be apologizing for staring, unfortunately I didn’t know how to do that without making a bigger idiot out of myself. Maybe she wouldn’t notice.

“I’m Erin.” She extended her hand towards me with a shy smile. Not only did she not know who I was, she didn’t even know I knew who she was.

I took her hand absently. I couldn’t fathom why she was speaking to me. We had been in science class together for two years running, and in that time, had never once said a word to each other. I realized I had started staring again and forced myself to stop.

“Ichabod.” I flushed a little at my stupid name. “So what kind of car is this?” she asked, leaning forward a little to look inside.

I barely heard her over the pounding of my heart. She smelled amazing-like butterscotch and vanilla. I think she might have said something more, but I couldn’t be sure, it was impossible to focus with her standing so close. I found myself ogling the thin slice of her flat belly that I could see beneath her shirt’s hem. I pulled my eyes back up to her face. It didn’t help. I was getting a little dizzy,

Everything started to look really far away. Then, just when I started to feel like my brain was about to shut off, it all suddenly made sense. Zoe.

The blood flowed back into my head with a flush of anger, allowing me to think a little more clearly. A very little. The twerp had set this up.

“Look Erin, “ I said, trying to keep my voice calm. “you don’t have to do this. I know Zoe put you up to it.” A look of profound relief streamed over her face and crashed among the jagged rocks of my broken heart. I had to admit, to myself at least, that look hurt-which of course only made me more angry.

“oh, thank God.” She laughed as she straightened and smoothed her shirt. “the look on your face…I thought you were going to bite my head off.”

I had looked angry? Well that’s probably because I was angry. Zoe wa going to pay for this. The back yard was plenty big enough and I was positive my father had a shovel somewhere around the house. I had Zoe buried up to her neck before I realized that Erin as still standing there. I glanced up to find her biting her lower lip again and scrutinizing me.

“Are you…” she stopped, going rigid as a resonant growl rolled menacingly from somewhere behind her. Oh so slowly, she turned and put her back against the car.

Standing there, with its head lowered and its teeth bared, was a smallish yellow dog. The kind of dog you normally was happily wagging its tail while a toddler yanks on its ears. This dog’s tail was not wagging. It interrupted its growling long enough to bark and hop forward, causing Erin to cringe. I scrambled out of the car, clumsily banging my knew on the open door. Time seemed to slow. I watched each muscle bunch as the dog rocked back onto its hind legs and then release as it launched itself forward. Between one heartbeat and the next panic turned to anger, and anger turned to action. Some sense within me I had never before been aware of stretched taut. My fist smashed against the side of the dog’s jaw, sending it sailing away to crash into a heap on the ground. I stood between it and Erin, wondering how I had gotten there. I watched the dog pick itself up on shaky legs. I clenched my fist anticipating another attack. It whined once and looked at me, with what I would have sworn was betrayal, as it limped away. “what the hell was that? “I asked no one in particular. It had all happened so fast that, except for the adrenaline flooding through my, it might have all happened in my head. Man, that was all I needed on top of everything-to be hallucinating too. “Are you okay?” Erin asked, erminding me she was there.

“Yeah.” I rasped. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, Thank you. Dogs have never liked me, but I’ve never had one try to attack me before.”

“My mother has that same problem.” Why would I mention my mother at a time like this? I felt myself blush and climbed back into the car to hide my face.

“Are you sure that you’re alright?”

I had the strongest urge to tell her the truth. To tell her no. To spill my guts about my frustration with Zoe and my fear about the unpredictable fits of rage. Maybe not the glowing eyes thing, but everything else. That milkshake rally must have gone bad. “Yeah,” I lied instead. “I’m okay. You don’t have to hang out. Zoe will understand, she knows what a jerk I am.”

She hesitated for a moment, flushing pink, before she whirled around and walked off in the opposite direction of the dog, towards the all with her hands folded behind her back to keep her skirt from bouncing up.

 

 

Ichabod, Chapter one

It was morning. Again, I knew this despite having a blanket pulled tightly over my head, by the insistent-and annoying-beeping of the digital alarm clock that sounded like it was somewhere very close to my head. Actually, it sounded as if it was somewhere inside my head-but I was reasonably sure that wasn’t the case.

I could have sworn I unplugged that thing. It was for reasons, like this my bed was no more than a mattress on the floor, placed strategically in the center of my room, and why I didn’t have any tables or high surfaces. It made it much easier for me to find and grab things from the comfort of a prostrate position.

Reaching out from underneath my blanket with one arm, I blindly groped through the piles of clothes which covered the entirety of my room until I felt the clocks rectangular plastic shell and retrieved it from beneath the discarded depths. First, I tried simply slapping the top, hoping to hit the snooze button. When that failed, I got a firm grasp on the corner and proceeded to slam it off the floor. Unfortunately, the floor was so heavily cushioned with cast off clothing that this too failed to have the desired effect. Finally, my sleep-addled brain cleared enough for a brief strike of inspiration and I felt around the clock’s surface until I managed to locate the cord, lifted it slightly and yanked. The beeping ceased.

I sighed contentedly and snuggled into my pillow, pulling the edges of the blanket around me tightly. I was a little disappointed to have awoken from my dream, a dream of a pair of clear green eyes, but I smiled to myself within the dark confines of my cocoon. It was Saturday, one of just two days of the week when it didn’t bother me so much to have to wake up. The reasons for this were simple: Saturday meant that it was the weekend (obviously). This of course meant no school (always a plus), but mainly it meant that I didn’t have to deal with people. Except my family, which was bad enough.

This weekend was especially promising because my parents had left the night before and would not be back until late Sunday. This left me home alone with my obnoxiously popular little sister. But this seemed like a small price to pay for a reprieve from my father’s mandatory Saturday morning workouts and my mother’s habitually worried questions about why I never had any plans. She either could not understand or refused to accept, the fact that I didn’t have any friends. That I didn’t want any. Not anymore anyways. I brushed all of those thoughts away and tried to concentrate on that perfect pair of light green eyes, hoping to recapture my dream.

I had almost drifted back to sleep when a tell take itch began at the tip of my nose and, before I could reach up to scratch it, quickly spread over my scalp, chest and arms as well. Zoe.

“Go away”. I complained loudly from under my blanket, vigorously without effect.

“You said that  you’d drive me into town today”, A tiny voice complained back.

“Ichabod…” she whined, stretching my name out in her little girl voice.

Where was a sneaker when you needed one? “Zee, go away,” I growled, giving up on the sneaker and feeling around for the alarm clock. It had just been right there. Somewhere.

“Itch!” She continued to whine and I heard a thump that sounded suspiciously like the stomping of a very small foot.

Itch. I hated that nickname. Although, in truth, it wasn’t the name itself that bothered me so much as it was the reason behind it, and my frustration at not being able to figure out how exactly Zoe was able to pull off her little trick of sending me into uncontrollable fits of scratching. She of course, continued to insist that the phantom itches were the physical manifestations of a guilty conscious. I found it more than a bit suspicious that it only happened  when she thought I had a reason to feel guilty-like when I really annoyed her. If it hadn’t been for that irritating mystery anything would have been better that Ichabod, even Itch. At least Zoe was the only one who used it.

“Alright!’ I finally surrendered, “I’m awake!” Predictably, the phantom itches disappeared at the exact moment of my capitulation. Eventually, I was going to figure out how she did that.

When I rolled out of bed, after the few moments it took to disentangle myself from the blanket, Zoe had already fled. I sat up slowly rubbing the sleep out of my eyes with my fists, and noticed the clock, my sneakers, and several palm-sized objects piled neatly together near the door. Just out of reach from the bed. Cleaver little twerp.

Still half asleep I grabbed what I was fairly certain was a towel off the floor

and stumbled across the hallway to the bathroom, kicking the door closed with a heel. A shower was what I needed. The not water felt good and went a long way toward waking me up. As my head began to clear of it’s post-dream fog. I actually began to feel optimistic about the day-until I remembered I was driving General Zoe into town to launch her weekly invasion of the mall.

The problem with going into town was that it as always full of people. The problem with going into town with Zoe was that the majority of those people would, somehow, make their way to wherever she happened to be. It was inevitable, Ugh. People. I had not been capable of stomaching the company of people. Despite what she thought, it was not because I was an anti -social monster determined to make her look bad and ruin her life. The truth was that, since that dark summer, it had become impossible to find a male above the age of puberty who could think coherently if Zoe was anywhere within a mile radius-a fact she seemed oblivious to, but I had my suspicions.

If Zoe wasn’t so…..well, beautiful, I grudgingly admitted to myself, then I might have been able to get through a day, or at least an hour, without some love-sick moron asking me about my little sister. The worst were the seniors. Seniors! As impossible as it seemed, at only fourteen, Zoe had captured the heart and mind of every guy in town. It occasionally drove my father into fits. Zoe had the same golden-brown hair as our mother; however, unlike mom’s short cut, Zoe’s fell in waves and curls all the way down to her waist. Her features were small and delicate, but at little more than five-foot-two, everything about her was small-tiny even-except of course for her eyes which were large and round with long lashes and of such a startling blue that most people were convinced they must be contacts. Our mother had beautiful blue eyes, but nothing like Zoe’s. Zoe looked like a painting of some mythical woodland goddess come to life.

It took me awhile, but I eventually decided I wouldn’t be able to hide in the shower all day. I reluctantly turned off the water. After brushing my teeth, I ran a thumb over my chin and cheeks. I didn’t need to, but I shaved anyway-it seemed like a good way to kill ten minutes. When that was done, I spent a long time examining myself in the mirror. I had inherited my father’s deep gray eyes and thick brown hair, though I kept mine cut short, slightly longer on top than on the sides, while his hung past his shoulders. I complained a lot about my father’s insistence that I spend a few hours every weekend lifting weights with him, but I had to admit I liked the results. I was no where near as well muscled as the old man, that took a level of dedication I simply didn’t have. At least I wasn’t gangly. With a name like Ichabod that would have been just asking for trouble.

As I stood there, flexing in the mirror, I could feel it there suddenly. Building inside of me with the speed of fire. The urge to smash my fist into the glass. Maybe my face.  I began to quiver with the desire to strike out. I gripped the sides of the sink, breathing in deeply through my nose and out through my mouth. I’d read somewhere that sort of breathing was supposed to help control anger. It wasn’t doing a thing for the rage blazing beneath my skin. I gritted my teeth and watched the reflection of my jaw muscles jump. then as swiftly as it had appeared, it was gone. I shifted my attention in time to see the last of the strange light leave my eyes. These episodes were getting more frequent, which scared me only slightly less then the episodes themselves. .

I released the kung fu grip I had on the sink and sank to my knees, setting my forehead against the cool porcelain. There was something seriously wrong with me. Normal people did not suffer from unprovoked spells of intense anger, and even if they did, their yes certainly didn’t glow when it happened. Maybe I imagined the glowing thing. That made more sense. A mild hallucination. but did it then mean there was something less wrong, or more wrong with me? So far, I hadn’t been able to bring myself to tell anybody about it. They would probably just think I was crazy. I know I did.

I headed back to my own room with what, thankfully actually had turned out to be a towel wrapped around my waist. I stopped just inside if the doorway and surveyed the mess before me with a critical eye. It helped take my mind off my possible insanity, so I let my imagination carry me away.

My bed looked like a raft which had been set afloat on a sea of rumpled clothing. Somewhere beneath the surface lurked a stereo, my collection of cd’s and the monstrous wooden trunk I used as a dresser-when I actually bothered to put anything away. Eventually, I would have to clean up this dump. Or, at the very least, tidy up a bit.

I began randomly grabbing and sniffing clothes to see if they were clean, or rather, if they were not. It took me a few minutes, but I managed to put together all the makings of my usual uniform; a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, plain black today I took an extra moment to look for a shirt emblazoned with a slogan sure to embarrass Zoe; unsurprisingly the numerous shirts I owned suitable for the task were all missing. Clever little twerp. I briefly contemplated revenge, but only briefly. I knew that was a war I would not win. Zoe could be rabidly dedicated to messing with me, whereas I just wanted to be left alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Ichabod

Eight years ago, while detiorating in solitary, I sat down to write. What bled from my pen were the first scenes of Ichabod. In many ways I still have not gotten up.

It took me two years to finish a very rough draft and another year to clean it up enough that I could allow anyone to read it. For the last five years I have edited and revised as time has permitted, but doing everything with a pen and paper is so time consuming that I doubt that I will ever finish.

Ichabod is the fist character I ever wrote and his story is the seed of my love for writing. Ichabod isn’t much of a her, he was born from my tragedy and heartbreak, but he saved me. This is me returning the favor.

See, it has become clear to me that no matter what I do or accomplish I will probably never be released from prison. Even if I am, it will be once I’m so old that I’ll never have anything like a life. So while I will almost certainly die behind the wall, Ichabod won’t. What follows are the twenty five chapters of Ichabod’s story presented as a serial, because I have to impose on my loved ones to type this stuff up for me. Some of the lengthier chapters will be presented in two parts. Please bear with me.

At this point dozens of people have read Ichabod and the response has been  over whelmingly  positive. of course most of those readers are in here with me. I hope someone out there loves these fucked up misfits as much as I do.

Character Study

Who am I?

Am I the convicted murderer? The comic book geek? The weight pit junkie? Am I the college graduate?

I admit it!

I am not the person I portray. I am not that person I want to be. Not exactly. I am not as strong, or fearless, or as selfless as I would like. Sure I try, but I am prone to profound despairs. I so very often want to surrender.

I never do. I always conceive some new ploy or stratagem.  Some false hope. First I convince myself I am backed into a corner, bloodied beyond saving, then I come roaring out ready to fight. I hate myself for that sometimes.

Can any prison sentence rehabilitate that?

Am I my desires?

I would like to laugh more. I want to regret less. I want to live up to more of my ideals. I would like to impose less on the people I love. I want to be just as difficult to deal with as I’ve always been, Maybe in different ways. A little more inspired, a little less foolish. But only a little. I wish I weren’t so crazy. I wish, for just once in my life, someone would love me enough to not leave. No matter the obstacles.

Think I can fantasize that away?

Am I my own creation?

I have worn the skins of so many hastily scribbled characters. I have peeled each off, scrubbed and scraped each away. From each I kept something, clung to some aspect I could not simply cast aside. The faint lines left after erasure. Am I the sum of these collected pieces?

Am I that small core which decides these parts are worth preserving?

The distinction sounds academic, but to me it seems deeply important. Though I cannot articulate how. Or why. Does considering these questions determine who I am? Am I no more than the questions I ask? Am I the answers I come to?

Am I strong enough to lift that off my shoulders?

Am I a work in progress?

I learn. It takes awhile. I am learning that as I strive and sacrifice, I am, in fact, surviving through insanity. I have found that sometimes, with perseverance, I am, in fact, the hero I hope to be are not all that far apart. Sometimes. I have discovered the path to wisdom is paved with perpetually broken hearts. I am learning that the only fate worse that death is a perpetually broken heart. I am learning that my past and my loneliness are as inescapable as this cage.

Does a degree open these doors?

So, who am I?

An untethered island forever floating around the edge of the archipelago. Some flightless creature leaping from cliffs.  A poet, writing with razors across wrists. Just some faceless specter passing through your life. The mixed metaphor which explains nothing and means everything.

A character study carefully wrought from chaos.

 

About “Character Study”

At some point when I first decided I wanted to write, I figured out that I would have to be willing to reveal painful and embarrassing truths if I was ever going to write anything worth reading. Character Study is a kind of self-portrait, intended as a way for me to understand how I saw those truths.

Character Study can be found in my collection Oubliette and in the  graduate issue of Writers bloc.

I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on this piece in the past and I decided to post it here to see what you all think and because it’s how I’ve been feeling this week.

 

If you would like to purchase a copy of my book Oubliette please contact me.