Chapter 1: The Fire Monkeys
- Paulo Coelho
There is nothing I hate more than being confined in Blake Sanders' house party.
Pretentious music, drunk kids, and sloppy kisses coerced me to almost call Aunt Marie to come and pick me up. But she is being swamped with huge cases involving cheating spouses.
I express an annoyed sigh, as odors of vomit and cigarettes made my nose curl.
In the kitchen were Delton High's finest football players chugging alcohol out of Red Bull cans. Meanwhile, junkies snort white lines of cocaine on the glossy brown coffee table.
I attempt to find Poe in this anxious crowd of kids, but my head is pounding from the toxic smoke.
So I swallow my third beer and watch my friends roam around the foyer. Several are drunk, while others are sober enough to play Beer Pong, Spin the Bottle, and Seven Minutes in Heaven.
Ironic, I think to myself.
The party had started five minutes ago, and yet the house looked it has been struck by a wild tornado. Or a pack of unstable wolves.
But for the first time, I avoided the kids' stupid antics and focused on the indie band The Fire Monkeys playing in the living room. One of the members is my best friend, Thomas "Finch" Wallace.
He plays on his red guitar while singing into the microphone. Finch's dark hair flounced; hazel green eyes gleam with charisma. Finch wears a denim jacket, a striped shirt, classic Levi's, and black Vans. He and his band amused the crowd with an awesome cover of "Mr. Big" by Free.
I grin. My awkward feet rocked to the sound of the guitar. I try to dance, but when the song is over, Finch excitedly ditches the stage to hug me.
His callous hands are warm with sweat, but the foul stench of smoke and alcohol in his breath made me feel a little light-headed.
"You're here!" Finch exclaimed, releasing her from his embrace. "Holy shit, it's so good to see you!"
I give him a strange look. "Dude, we have seen each other a dozen times in school."
Finch's cheeks burn bright red. "Oh, yeah. I forgot."
Taking a deep breath, I pull away from Finch's grasp then ask, "So, how are you feeling?"
"Awesome as fuck!" Finch grinned. "Did you like the show?"
"Fuck yeah, I did!" I yelled excitedly. "It was the best! Where is Poe, anyway?"
Poe, Finch, and I grew up on the same block, so we knew each other pretty well.
Truth be told, Poe and I have a lot in common: we love reading depressing poetry, watching horror movies, writing short stories, eating sausage pizza, and wearing retro clothes that died in the 90s.
Back then, Poe used to have an untamed Afro and braces, but as Finch gestures his head to the quiet boy sitting on the couch, I discover that Poe's hair is cleanly shaven.
Black glasses shoved close to his brown eyes, as Poe listens to music on his broken cellphone. He adorns a dark gray beanie, a long-sleeved, deep green t-shirt with a white peace sign on it, ripped jeans, and Doc Martens.
"Hey," I greet, walking up to Poe. "How are you?"
Poe didn't respond until I poked him on his shoulder.
Infuriated, he yanks his headphones then glances up in surprise to see me standing right in front of him.
"Hi!" I greeted.
Elevated, Poe sighs in relief. "Thank God, I thought you were one of those preps who won't shut up about their life choices."
Although he doesn't hug me, Poe permits me to sit beside him.
"So, what are you doing in a fancy house shindig like this?" I ask teasingly.
Poe rolls his eyes. "I keep asking myself that question every time I am in a public setting."
"Same," I grunt. "What are you listening to right now?"
"I want to listen to them on my grandpa's Walkman, but my little sister broke it."
"Shit indeed," Poe agrees as he leans his back against the couch. "Well, enough about me. What about you? I heard that your aunt is making you attend summer camp."
"Ugh," I groan. "I don't know why my aunt thought sports were cool. Did you know that when she was my age, she constantly got picked last in dodgeball?"
Poe sniggers, "no one gives a damn about dodgeball, Salem. Surviving dodgeball is like surviving a drive-by shooting: everyone is out for blood."
"Yeah," I chuckled a little. "That's a pretty good comparison."
They conversed with each other until it was past their curfew. Finch drops me and Poe at their front doorsteps then drove away.
I release a sigh, adjusting my Guns N' Roses t-shirt. A dark red flannel warmed my bare sleeves, while blue corduroy pants cloaked my legs. Black converse sneakers crunch autumn leaves as I wade towards the house.
Resting comfortably on the Welcome Home! mat was my calico cat, Cookie.
"Hey, Cookie!" I caress the cat's soft head with my fingers. "How are Aunt Marie and my big sister doing? Did they feed you while I was gone?"
"Meow." Cookie whined. She presses her cold paw against my soft brown cheek in a futile attempt to get warm.
"Jesus," I moan. "You are fucking cold."
Shivering, I carry a freezing Cookie in one hand while shoving the key in the other. But as soon as I hurried inside, the cat squirmed out of my grasp and scurried into the living room.
"Not even a 'thank you'?" I scoff.
Cookie responds by crawling on top of the teal green living room couch and fell into a deep sleep.
"Spoiled brat," I mutter. I placed the keys on the dining table then shouted, "Aunt Marie, are you here?"
All of a sudden, two hands grab my broad shoulders, causing me to shriek and whip her head in the direction of my laughing twenty-two-year-old sister.
"Bee!" I whined.
"Woo!" Bee exclaims, pumping her fists in the air. "I still got it!"
Her black dreadlocks are painted with pink streaks. She wears a dark purple tee with an outdated photo of Paul McCartney, a pair of stonewashed jeans, and dark brown Birkenstocks. Her small, black sunglasses concealed her brown eyes.
Since she is taking a year off from college, Bee currently inhabits Aunt Marie's house.
"Sorry, Theresa." Bee giggled. "Aunt Marie is working on a case."
"Yeah, I figured. And it's Salem now."
"Huh?" Bee snorts. "Why Salem?"
"Since summer has started, I have decided to turn a new leaf," I answer. "I also like that cat Salem from Sabrina the Teenage Witch."
Bee laughs. "Yeah, I like him too. Anyway, don't worry about the dishes. I can wash them for you. Meanwhile, you need to take a shower before Aunt Marie comes home."
Afterward, she whisks away into the messy kitchen where she got started cleaning the dishes.
Meanwhile, I ditch my gray socks and coal-black sneakers on the stairs. Brown curls bounced behind the back of my neck, while dirt and sweat hid inside my black bra.
Exhausted, I carried my worn body over to my bedroom.
Sting, Fleetwood Mac, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and old movie posters covered every inch of my wall. A small wooden shelf carried blue orchids, delicate stones I found on the beach, old notebooks, and photos of me, my family, and the boys visiting Disney World for the seventh time.
Underneath the wall shelf is my grandpa's ancient typewriter made its home on the sun-dried bamboo woven desk. Black pens and pencils rest on typed pages; two, old notebooks stacked on top of my laptop.
Sighing some more, I first pull the silver rings off my fingers and set them on my dresser drawer.
Next, I shed the red flannel and tosses it on the wooden chair near me. Finally, after releasing a depleted yawn, I open one of the closet doors and picked out a gray Ramones tank top, skimpy black shorts, and dark blue underwear.
Hanging on my left shoulder is a brown towel. But as I step into the bathroom, pretentious sounds of gushing water compel me to stop.
Should I go check and see what Bee is doing? I thought. At any moment, she could be turning the house into the Atlantic Ocean.
Pulling open the shower curtains, I yell aloud, "Hey Bee, is everything okay?"
"Are you sure?"
In response, the plates clamored in the sink like an orchestra readying their instruments.
No immediate noises of cracked glass or banging utensils - just the running water and authentic stillness in the background.
This is new, I think as I waddled out of the bathroom. Normally, she would be having trouble turning the tap on, or arranging the plates in the dish dryer.
I guess Bee is not used to dealing with dirty dishes since she took a break from college.
After I finished taking a long shower, I step out of the tub, wipe my soaked body, and open the mirror cabinet.
Orange prescription bottles fill the entire white shelves; some enabled me to stay focus on tests, while others helped me sleep through a long night.
Ever since I was a kid, I attend these stupid therapy sessions because my mind is a little slower than the other kids.
But don't get me wrong: I was not raped or abandoned in the streets, but the reason my parents aren't in Sparrow Fields is that they saw a man getting stabbed right in front of them.
Although they barely saw the incident, the last thing Mom and Dad want is their two daughters getting attacked by a tweaked hobo. Not that I blame them.
As soon as I put on my clothes, I open the container of Melatonin, take one pill, and swallowed it with my bottled water.
Sighing, I rub my eyes with the back of my left hand. I toss my laundry in the hamper outside of my closet, then collapsed on my unmade bed.
"So, who dropped you off?"
I lift my head from my pillow, then stares at my puzzled sister. "You know, Thomas Wallace? He and I have been friends since Kindergarten."
"Why is he called Finch?"
"Because there were four people in math class named Thomas," I answer. "Besides, he deserves a cool nickname."
"Ooh, Salem and Finch sitting in a tree-"
"Oh, fuck off!"
"I should call Finch. Ask him if he is in love with you."
Flustered, I hoist my white pillow off of the mattress then throws it at Bee's face, but it ended up smacking against the wall and collapsed on the floor.
"Wow, your aim is terrible." Bee observed, picking up the withered pillow with her right hand. "Maybe when you go to that summer camp, your aim will get better."
I raise my eyebrow. "That's rich coming from the girl who got kicked out of math camp."
"Oh come on, you used to be an incredible soccer player," said Bee. "What happened to you?"
"I grew up."
Bee snickered, "Yeah, I figured. Do you want to talk about it?"
Stunned, Bee tossed the pillow on the mattress and sat beside me.
"What's wrong?" she asks me. "Don't you like hiking in the woods and eating smores?"
I guide her gaze over to the teal green wall with white painted stars and moons then ask, "Have you ever saw that movie where Wynona Ryder's character was trapped in some mental asylum?"
"If you mean Girl, Interrupted then yeah."
"Summer camp is like that, minus the sun, cooked food, and passive-aggressive camp counselors."
Bee chuckled a little, "Jesus, you think it will be that bad? Don't you want to make friends?"
"No, I like being around Finch, Poe, and my old friends."
I shrug my shoulders.
"I don't know," I say. "Because they never abandon me."
Bee gives her a sad look. Her hands glide through her braided hair as Bee gives me a piece of advice: "One day, those kids will find someone to play with, and it's not going to be you."
"Huh, what the hell does that mean?"
Bee closes her eyes for a moment and lets out a sigh. "Just careful, Salem, and look at that pamphlet Aunt Marie gave you."
As soon as Bee reopens her eyes, she slides out of bed then walks out of my room.
I guide my eyes to the pamphlet sitting on my nightstand. But instead of reading it, I take the pamphlet, crumpled it into a ball, and tossed it in a bin close to my desk.