Monday, June 27, 2016

Chapter 2: Never Count Your Money While You’re Sittin’ at the Table

SUMMER OF WASPS is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental … no matter how many times you ask.

Chapter 2: Never Count Your Money While You’re Sittin’ at the Table

“You think she has someone spying on us?” We were driving down the single lane highway that was the only way I knew from our pool to my brother’s pool twenty-five minutes away. We were halfway there and the air conditioner in Frankie’s little Datsun was just then beginning to wheeze cool air. It was my turn to drive today, but since my car had no air conditioner at all, we always took Frankie’s. I was stuck at the speed limit behind a row of semis. Frankie would have whipped out and passed them long ago, but I was still trying to be upset with him and this was the best I could do.

“Spies? What, are you serious?” he asked.

“I’m just saying that—”

“Hey! Stupid, it was Marion!”

“Don’t call me stupid, Evel Knievel! You’re the one trying to get us fired.”

“Marion called Grendel’s Mother, man, you know she did.”

“Yeah, maybe, but—”

“And she told those kids to bring me the bike.”


“Yeah, that little Victor kid comes up to me and says that Marion told him to ask me if he could ride his bike in the pool.”

“Oh now you’re telling me you were set up? I’m not listening to this.”

“Whatever you say, boss.”


“Go around them.”


As usual, my brother’s pool was full of swimmers, at least enough to have two guards out on deck, maybe even three. Of course he didn’t. As we walked across the park, through the chain link fence we could see one guard on the stand, and my brother Robert, Gina, and another guard, Lester, sitting at a picnic table under the shade of the corrugated metal awning where parents sat during swim lessons near the shallow end of the pool. Close by, a white ring buoy leaned against an empty folding chair near the edge of the pool with its coil of yellow plastic rope wound loosely beneath the seat.

The cashier at my brother’s pool, with a book open in one hand and a flyswatter cocked in the other, lowered her rumpled paperback and greeted us cheerfully as we entered. “Hi guys.”

“Hey Arlene,” I said, “How’s it going?”

“Just fine, thanks.”

She was alone in their cramped shoebox of an office. Besides the door, it had two openings, not windows per se, with glass or screens, just window-like openings in the brick. They were positioned one at each corner of the room so that without leaving the stool, the cashier could collect admission from the opening that faced the entry gate or sell candy and chips from the other that faced the pool deck. The heavy plywood panels that covered these openings were hinged upwards and held there by chains dangling from the ceiling. Watch your head at closing time because it was a quick one, two – slam, slam – slide the deadbolts and you’re out the door. There was just enough room left for a box fan on the floor that was usually aimed at the lounge chair along the wall, which most days was covered in a dirty laundry pile of the guard’s wet towels, t-shirts, shorts, and sometimes on top of all that – one of the guards.

“Hi Frankie,” Arlene added, waving at him with her flyswatter as we passed.

“Hey sexy,” he growled.

Why couldn’t she be our cashier? I asked myself.

“James?” Arlene called after me.

I turned back and stepped up to her window. She looked at me expectantly, like she wanted me to say something, to give her something.

“James,” she said again, her brown eyes moving from mine to the envelope sized canvas bag in my hand. “Did you want to leave that with me?”

“Oh yeah,” I said, passing it to her, “Thanks, sorry.” I always dropped our cash bag off at my brother’s pool since he stayed open later and had to drive up to the main office to drop his own off anyway.

“Not a problem, James.”

Gina got up from the picnic table and met Frankie halfway there. I continued to the table as Robert acknowledged me with one of his I-know-what-you’ve-been-doing — even though he didn’t — smiles. “What happened to you?” he asked as I sat down next to him facing the pool.

“We decided to take the afternoon off.”

Suddenly, I heard Gina yelp and then there was a sharp sounding slap. I looked over as Frankie was making a big show of moaning and holding the side of his face with his hand. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” Gina was saying, trying to get Frankie to show her the damage she’d done.

“What ever it was he did,” I said, “she just forgave him.”

Robert smiled, but Lester said loudly, “We’re in the middle of a game here!”

Gina ignored him.

“You wanna play, James?” Lester asked, as he packed the many cards in his hand together and made to return them to the discard pile.

“No,” Robert said, as he reached out and covered the cards on the table. “James, you play Gina’s hand. She won’t care.”


“We’re playing to see who goes up next,” explained Lester, unnecessarily.

“Yeah, I remember this,” I fanned Gina’s hand out before me. It had one reverse card and was full of draw-fours and draw-twos. Robert was smiling faintly to himself.

“If you lose,” Lester said loudly in Gina’s direction, “Gina has to go up!”

“Okay,” I said, but I knew who would be going up next.

When we were kids this game was called “Crazy Eights,” and we played it with a regular deck of cards, matching numbers and suites in order to discard, with eights of course being wild. Now they made special decks with nasty little cards that skipped turns, reversed the order of play, and forced players to draw extra cards. The object of the game was to go out first. Or in this case, not be the only player not to.

I hit Robert with a draw-four right away, then reversed the direction of play and wasted little time dumping the rest of my arsenal on poor Lester. By the time Frankie and Gina came and sat down next to Lester, I was out and it was between Robert and his lifeguard.

“Not having a good day are you Lester?” Frankie asked.

“Not as bad as Nate,” Gina said, motioning with her head in the direction of the guard stand. The guard was sitting with his knees pulled up and his towel completely draped over him so that only his sunglasses and bare feet were showing.

“You’re going to lose your tan, babe,” Frankie said, leaning a little away from her and looking her over, “if you keep playing so well.”

“Don’t you worry about my tan.”

“It’s the luck of the draw,” said Robert, “the luck of the draw.”

Through the reassuring sounds of screaming, laughing, and splashing coming from all around us, a boy’s high-pitched voice began calling out, “No running! No running! I said no running!”

“Hey!” Robert barked, “Out of the chair!”

I turned to see a dark little boy with a shaved head and cutoff jeans jump up from the folding chair at the pool’s edge and, laughing hysterically, leap into the water. I returned my eyes to the table to find Lester was staring mournfully at Robert’s last card on the discard pile.

“Sorry Lester,” he said.

“Oh well,” Lester sighed. “Is it time?”

“Five minutes ago,” said Gina.

Lester pulled out a plastic bottle of children’s sunscreen from the back pocket of his swim suit. “Gina?” he asked, motioning with the pink container.

“Come here,” she said, taking the bottle out of his hand and twisting around on the bench as Lester sat down on the edge with his back to her. On the guard stand, Nate was looking over and beginning to peel away his towel. “He’s on his way Nate!” Gina called out as she squeezed a gob of the lotion into the palm of her hand.

I looked away, and in order to avoid Frankie’s eyes, I focused instead on Robert as he gathered the cards up from the table to prepare for the next game. I noticed he was picking out the draw-four, draw-two, and reverse cards from the discard pile and placing them at the bottom of the deck in his hand. He looked up and winked at me before shuffling the cards, and I could see that each time he did he let the bottom cards slap down first, leaving his special cards untouched. When we were kids he used to lick his finger and then temporarily glue two or three cards together with saliva so that he could secretly discard several at once. His new system seemed a little more efficient.

“You know,” I said, “You really should have more than one guard out on deck.”

“What are you talking about?” he asked. “We have four.”

“Six, with these guys,” said Lester.

“Yeah,” said Gina, “but they aren’t getting paid.”

I looked over to discover that she was not slathering lotion over Lester’s bare shoulders, as I had assumed, but dabbing her index finger into the sunscreen in her palm and carefully tracing it over the large pale letters already across Lester’s brown-baked back that spelled, “I Love Janice.”

“Who’s Janice?” I asked.

“Trouble,” said Gina.

“She can’t help where she comes from,” Lester said frowning over his shoulder at Gina.

“She’s a local girl,” Gina said to me, as if that explained everything.

“You’re a local girl,” said Lester.

“You know what I mean,” she said.

From the pinched look on Lester’s face though, I don’t think he did. He shrugged his boney shoulders, ran a hand through his sun burnt hair, and didn’t say any more.

“Big ugly boyfriend, huh?” asked Frankie.

“Dude!” Lester twisted around to see Frankie. “With a tattoo on his neck!” He stabbed frantically with his finger at the side of his own neck as if he were suddenly in pain.

“Hold still Lester,” Gina snapped, “or you can do this yourself!”

“So what happened really?” Robert asked, turning to me. “Why’d you guys close early, not enough swimmers?”

“No,” said Frankie, “too many flies.”

“Yeah, well, no one has as many flies as we do,” Lester declared.

“You think so?” Frankie asked.

The two things you could count on this time of year were an abundance of flying insects and an oppressively humid, pot-boiling, lung-scorching heat. Saying that one pool had more flies than another, and I don’t care what city it was in, was like saying that the weather was hotter here than our pool twenty-five minutes away.

“Well our pool is hotter,” I said.

“Oh, right,” huffed Gina.

“You call this a fly problem?” Frankie asked. “We have so many flies, sometimes I have to wear a handkerchief over my mouth just so I can breathe.”

“Oh yeah,” said Lester. “Yesterday the flies were so bad I had to borrow Nate’s goggles when I was on the guard stand, just so I could see the swimmers!”

“Yesterday,” returned Frankie, “to keep the flies away, we had to borrow one of Marion’s cigars and take turns blowing smoke in each other’s faces, just so we could breathe!”

“Oh, shut up,” said Gina.

“A bet!” said Frankie.

“Okay,” said Robert, “a bet.”

“How much?” asked Lester.

“Dinner,” said Gina.

“Okay,” said Robert, “dinner.”

“Whoever kills the most flies … by this Friday afternoon,” declared Gina, “wins.”

“You’re on!” said Frankie.

“Fine,” I said.

NEXT WEEK: Chapter 3: You’ll Catch More Flies with a Fly Killing Machine

LAST WEEK: Chapter 1: Big Mother Is Always Watching

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Chapter 1: Big Mother Is Always Watching

SUMMER OF WASPS is a work of fiction. Yes, I worked as a lifeguard in my teens. Yes, I drove a Volkswagen Bug with no air conditioning. And yes, the song “Cruel Summer” by the group Bananarama was released in England in 1983, but wasn't a hit in the US until 1984, when it was used in the movie The Karate Kid. But other than that, all names, characters, and places are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental … no matter how many times you ask.


Chapter 1: Big Mother Is Always Watching

We were really bored. It had become a very slow summer and it was only the beginning of August. Swim lessons were over, and even though every day seemed hotter and more humid than the next less people came to swim at the pool as the month wore on. The other lifeguard, Frankie, was not talking to Marion the cashier, and he refused to be anywhere near her. And since she worked in the only room, of the only building, with the only fan and since he was my best friend we both stayed outside most of the day.
We took turns sitting up in the lifeguard stand and telling the same kids, for the thousandth time, not to jump into the shallow end and to stop running on the pool deck. Every thirty minutes we would rotate. Frankie would climb up and I would climb down. I would wander around the pool deck, maybe get in the water for a while and see how long I could hold my breath, race some kids short ways across the pool (without using my arms), or go inside and make small talk with Marion. We talked about anything but Frankie. Then thirty minutes later I would take my turn on the stand while Frankie would then do pretty much the same thing except talk to Marion. Sometimes one of us would walk down to the end of the street and buy burritos and giant Styrofoam cups of flavored rice water called horchata from Sancho's Market.
Like I said, we were bored, and things probably would have stayed that way if not for the wasps. That summer there were wasps everywhere. Not leave-them-alone-and-they-won't-bother-you bees, but don't-even-look-at-me-or-I-will-sting-you-to-death wasps. They would land anywhere there was water: the pool, a puddle on the pool deck, a wet towel rolled up in the corner of the bathroom — it didn't matter to them. When they stung it burned and itched for hours and left a red welt with a white center like you'd been shot at close range with an industrial size rubber band.
So we started killing them; at first half-heartedly, sneaking up on them floating in the pool and splashing them until they drowned. But this was slow work and not always a sure death. Often they would drift up from the bottom of the pool, float waterlogged at the surface for a moment like soggy yellow flower petals, and then, while you watched in horror, they would suddenly stand up on the water, shake themselves off, and fly menacingly away.
But I'm getting ahead of myself; it didn't really start with the wasps. First it was the flies. And before that it was the cash-box affair. Which led to the episode with the bicycle, and later the guard tower incident... oh, and our boss, the aquatics supervisor, of course. Since all of this began with Marion though, I'll start with her.
The next public pool was in an only slightly more populous city, thirty minutes away. My brother worked there, as well as Frankie's girlfriend, Gina. Gina just also happened to be Marion's niece: Gina's mother's sister. Marion imagined that she knew everything about everyone — and their next of kin — for miles. She would often remind me that she knew me when I was still in diapers, which technically could be true, considering she was once married to my aunt's brother-in-law. On some days, when she was feeling particularly insecure about something, she would remind me that she used to change my diapers. And whether or not she literally meant this, it was regardless, not true. My mother would never have left me, or any of my brothers and sisters, with that crazy woman for even an instant. And while age, I imagined, had mellowed her somewhat, I would never have allowed myself to forget that mental picture I had of her, standing in the street, nine months pregnant and viciously smashing the windshield of her now ex-husband's red firebird with a wooden baseball bat. Her long bare legs, protruding stilt-like from beneath her yellow and pink-flowered pup tent of a dress as tiny pieces of glass showered all about her skinny arms and kinky lion's mane of bleach blond hair, screaming, “You bastard!” with each swing of the bat.
Actually, I couldn't have been there, but I'd heard the story so often that the picture was as good as my own memory. Somehow the fact that Marion was the storyteller didn't matter. And even though her hair now had more gray than any other color, and her once pink skin now resembled the weathered, leather quality of an old baseball glove, she retained a nefarious instinct for survival that was not lessened, but merely obscured by age.
September through June, Marion ran the cafeteria at the public elementary school across the street. In the summer she was the city pool’s cashier, a job she had held for twenty-five consecutive summers. Lifeguards came and went. Sometimes they were rich kids from the west end of the valley, "slumming it" in order to earn a little spending money and make their parents happy by doing something constructive and character building over the summer. Sometimes they were former barefoot, snot-nosed, kids from the neighborhood who, thanks to a six week after-school training program at the local Boys and Girls Club, no longer had to scrape together the dollar-a-day admission to hang out at the pool, but were actually paid almost twice minimum wage to do nearly the same thing.
Marion though, she was always the cashier. Just the cashier. The lowest ranking employee. She was the last dangling rusty link in the chain of command who, for all practical purposes, ran the place. As far as she was concerned the lifeguards, swim instructors, coaches, and pool managers in particular, were only visitors.
The locals paid her due respect when necessary, witch-lady that she was, but otherwise kept their distance. Those mothers that did come around quickly dropped off their kids and left. No hi, good morning, how are you, or see you at church... just a frigid indifference and then the evil eye, a rude remark from Marion — slut — or a bit of scathing gossip — makeup don't cover them bruises honey — as soon as they were out of earshot. She did receive social visits from this little guy named Joe from the Water District. He was always wearing his khaki work uniform with his name patch sewn above the pocket and would often drop by on his lunch break, though he never had food, and sometimes stay talking for the entire afternoon. Even though he was young enough to be her son, they seemed to get on pretty well, exchanging stories like old bar-buddies over corn nuts and cigarettes. They had to smoke outside of course, which for Marion was only as far as the doorway, never more than three steps away and always in clear view of the chips, candy, and cash-box.
Joe would describe how he single handedly saved three men from being buried alive in a muddy grave by diving into an open drainpipe with only a rope tied to his waist, his St. Christopher medallion around his neck, and an oversized crescent wrench in one hand. And she would explain how her son was wrongfully serving time for possession of drugs that really belonged to a friend. "You know how when you get into someone else's car you like to take your wallet out of your back pocket and set it next to you on the seat so you can sit more comfortably?" she'd ask, and Joe would nod empathetically, "Well when the cops pulled them over, the driver, who he really hardly even knew..." And so on.
I found their conversations about as fascinating as a car wreck. Frankie though, couldn't stomach it. I read somewhere that the reason people sometimes abhor certain behavior in other people, is because it too closely resembles something about themselves that they don't like to admit. The way I saw it, Marion's storytelling and exaggerations were like a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future for Frankie. The way he saw it, Marion gave all self-respecting bull-shitters and know-it-alls a bad name. And so because Frankie couldn't stand Marion, Marion couldn't stand Frankie more. The fact that Frankie was intimate with her niece was, for Marion, like fresh lemon juice on a nasty cold sore: bitter, painful and ugly.
If Marion had known that Gina had been going out with my older brother, Robert, all last summer, our relationship might have been less than cordial, or maybe she did know but was still waiting to see where I fit in and what, if any of it, could be used against me. It was hard to tell with Marion. Frankie and I were tight, she knew that, and so that's the scab she usually picked, "I told my niece, Gina, whatever you do don't get serious with a local boy. And if his dad's a drunk, you can bet he will be too. It's only a matter of time. Like father like son, it's the God's truth, Gina I said, and if the dad hits the mom, sooner or later, he'll be hitting you..." And so on.
Frankie knew about Robert and Gina last summer of course, but it didn't seem to bother him that they worked at the same pool and spent so much time together now. In fact, nothing really seemed to bother Frankie... except Marion. "She takes money right out of the cash box. She thinks the thing's her own damn purse. Do you even read the daily reports you sign? How many kids did we have today, ten? I bet they all bought a bag of chips. You bought a bag of chips. I bought a bag of chips. She didn't write anything down when I bought mine. Did she write anything down when you bought yours?"
"She probably counts them later and subtracts what she's sold."
"Think about it. What kind of inventory system is that? At the Burger Box we had to keep track of every piece of lettuce. If you dropped a lettuce on the floor you had to write it down."
"I bet at the end of the day the report says six bags of chips sold."
"Come on."
He was right. Six bags. What about the other six bags sold? Fifty-cents a bag, multiplied by six bags a day, was three dollars. That could add up! What was I supposed to do, tell someone? Robert? What could he do? Nothing. Call our supervisor? What could she do? Maybe fire us all? No, not yet, I decided. I was the pool manager. I would take care of it. Maybe Marion had a good excuse. I was sure she could come up with a good excuse. Did I really want to hear it? Was it really that big of a deal?
Yes, it was. If she was stealing chip money she could just as easily be stealing pool admission. It was the county's policy that if there were not at least twelve pool patrons in attendance within the first hour, the pool would have to close. We never bothered with the first hour thing, but if our daily reports ever showed less than twelve swimmers, our timecards would have to show that we clocked out early that day. I needed all the hours I could get. We barely had that many swimmers a day as it was, and this late in the summer, consistently low attendance could mean an early closing of the pool for the season. So it was much more than pinching a few dollars a day from the cash box. If we couldn't show twelve swimmers a day on our reports, the pool would close and I'd be out of a job.
So the next day I confronted Marion. She not only denied everything, she started screaming at me. How dare I accuse her of such a thing? She had been doing this job since before I was born! Then she was crying and screaming. If I thought she was stealing, report her! Call the police! Prove it! So I did the only thing I could do, I apologized. Talk about a bad day. And to make things worse, it was the first time all summer we had to close early because of low attendance. Driving home, suddenly three dollars didn't seem like so much when I had just lost a whole day's worth of pay.
The next day, in the middle of the afternoon, the aquatics supervisor called — she rarely ever called. I was in the boy's locker room standing in the shower. Frankie was supposed to be on the guard stand. Occasionally, on a very humid day, I would pass the time this way. The locker rooms were really not locker rooms, just two square cinderblock additions to each side of the office, both with two toilets and a sink on one side — make that one toilet and a urinal in the boys — and a wall of showers on the other. I didn't hear the pay phone ring with the water splashing on my head, but I did hear Marion yell for me from inside the office.
"Hi James, how are things going out there?"
"Uh, just fine ... thanks."
Now, just as it is every boss's tenured privilege to sit among their peers around a massive oblong table eating grapes and sipping wine while sliding small plastic replicas of their employees to and fro about a giant game board — in a natural balance of power — it is every employee's right to make up terribly nasty names to refer to those same bosses behind their backs whenever and as often as possible. The aquatics supervisor’s name was Hilda Webb, but we called her Grendel's Mother. It was Frankie who came up with the name, which confirmed my suspicion that he never really did finish reading Beowulf in Mr. Schwartz’s English III class last year. Okay, so it was the monster Grendel who actually lost his arm while his mother ended up losing her head, but the Norse, slash, Viking feel was right and well, it just seemed to fit. Some of the guards at the other pools called her Broom Hilda. We considered this cartoonish; it lacked originality, and had nothing to do with her condition. She was, after all, a petite and pretty young woman with a perfect tan, a Peter Pan bob of blond hair, and her left arm completely missing about three inches below her elbow.
"James how many swimmers do you have right now?"
"Uh ... I think, uh, about three?"
"I see, and who's working with you?"
"Frankie, and uh, Marion."
Gina, Robert, and the other guard at their pool, Lester, would use the initials, GM, when calling on the phone. Since their pool was en route to our pool, they always gave us a courtesy call as soon as Grendel's Mother finished one of her surprise visits. "GM's on the way," was the usual message. They didn't trust Marion and they were scared to death of Grendel's Mother.
"James, I'm paying three people to watch three swimmers?"
"Well, no. We had a lot more, earlier, but you know, just three right now."
"Marion says you've had only nine swimmers today."
I looked at Marion who was already holding the clipboard up in front of me. Her nicotine yellowed fingertip highlighting the number nine in the attendance column of the form. "Oh, I didn't think... I uh, didn't realize... she didn't tell me," I explained.
Grendel's Mother drove an orange 1974 Volkswagen Super Beetle. She loved drinking Diet Pepsi and she smoked Marlboro Menthol Lights. It was said she could do all three at the same time. She always smiled, always looked you in the eye — hers were green — when she was speaking to you, and never raised her voice. Often, she would do all this with a clipboard, or a soda, or even her cigarette balanced on the crook of her elbow just above her stub. Under the circumstances, it was easier to focus on her face, than not.
"Listen James,” I pressed the phone firmly against my wet ear, “it’s your job to keep track of these things, that's why you're the pool manager. You know what the attendance policy is. I can't justify paying the three of you when you're not even supposed to be on the clock. Now send those kids home and tell them to come back tomorrow... and to bring their friends."
"Yes ma'm."
No one knew how she lost her arm and no one dared ask.
"Oh, and James, one more thing. I've been hearing some disturbing things lately about what goes on out there. I wouldn't have put you at a pool so far away if I didn't think I could trust you. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Yes, well uh, no, I mean, what disturbing things?"
"Well, things like riding bikes into the pool."
"Bikes?" I thought for sure it was going to have something to do with the chip money. Hearing this, I nearly laughed out loud with relief, "That's crazy. I promise you no one here is riding bikes in the pool. I mean that's —”
"James, don't promise me, just make sure it never happens ... again."
"But --" 
"Good-bye James."
As I hung up the phone, Marion asked in her most concerned voice, "What was that all about?"
I ignored her and walked out of the office and onto the pool deck. Our three swimmers were standing outside of the pool applauding enthusiastically. The youngest, Marlo I think, was jumping up and down shouting, "Again! Do it again!" And there was Frankie straddling a metallic blue bicycle at the pool's edge, soaking wet, with his whistle around his neck and his sunglasses still on.

Next Week:Chapter2: Never Count Your Money While You’re Sittin’ at the Table

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

"If music is the food of love..."

Unofficial Playlist for The Dream Diaries (with teasers):

Sometimes we turn to music as a way of shifting our moods, maybe to calm us or as a motivational tool, to help lift us up. But just as often—maybe more often—we seek out music that is in tune with our emotions. We identify with songs and artists that seem to express exactly what we are feeling, only more intensely, more precisely, as if they understood completely what we are going through, as if they could speak for us.

The following twelve songs sample the emotional arc of Evelyn’s character, as well as the characters that possess her dreams. As the unofficial soundtrack to the book, the songs fit specific scenes in the story. For each of those scenes, I’ve shared a brief excerpt from The Dream Diaries (just teasers, no spoilers … I hope).

1.    Song: “Oh My God”
Artist: Ida Maria (Fortress around My Heart)
Lyrics: “Find a cure, find a cure for my life… Oh my God. Oh you think I’m in control. Oh my God. Oh you think it’s all for fun.”

From Chapter One: Evelyn’s drawing again…
Evelyn turned to the first blank page. The problem was, she didn’t trust herself, not as far as her drawings were concerned. Not at the risk of manipulating or hurting others, intentionally or not. But what if she didn’t try to draw her daily reality? What if she documented her dreams instead? This one had left her too anxious to sleep anyway. Maybe by drawing it, by capturing the terrible details of the nightmare on paper, she could exorcise them from her mind.

Evelyn selected a pencil from the mug on her desk, touched the paper with the point, and began to draw.

2.    “IDK How”
Artist: Angelic Milk (single)
Lyrics: “I don't know how, but I learn fast. I don't know how, but if I learned how I'd be the best.”

From Chapter Three: Meanwhile, it’s Walt Whitman in English class…
Schwartz had stopped to talk with the group next to theirs. He was leaning heavily on the table top with one hand and gesturing with the other.

Evelyn turned back to the poem. “I see, in low life, the mother misused by her children, dying, neglected, gaunt, desperate.” Schwartz wanted them to identify the words that created tone. Which ones didn’t? “I see the treacherous seducer of young women. I mark the ranklings of jealousy and unrequited love, attempted to be hid.”

“Do we have to analyze everything we read to death?” she whispered.

Mara looked up and gave her a knowing smirk.

Evelyn saw Mr. Schwartz at the next table, his hand fluttering in the air as he spoke like a one-winged bird, and she felt suddenly ashamed. Lowering her head, she forced herself to go back to the poem.

3.    Song: “Normal Person”
Artist: Arcade Fire (Reflektor)         
Lyrics: “Is anything as strange as a normal person? Is anyone as cruel as a normal person?”

From Chapter Three: “Hey, who’s that boy over there?”
Evelyn and Karen followed Denise’s gaze to a table at the far edge of the freak section, almost closer to the main lunch mob than the tables behind the art buildings. A kid in a grey hoodie and a baseball cap was sitting there alone.

“Psycho Loner Kid?” Karen asked. “What about him?

“Well, nothing. I’ve never seen him before.”

“That’s his name?” asked Evelyn. “I thought it might be Slim Shady or something.”

“Yeah, right?” Karen laughed, and then she began to bob her head and rap the refrain from Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”.

“Why do they call him Psycho Loner Kid?”

Both Evelyn and Karen turned to look at Denise.

“Okay, yeah, I get it,” she said, “but why psycho?”

“I don’t know,” said Karen. “Look at him.”

Evelyn could see he had his ear buds in, but his eyes were on the lunch crowd and not the phone he was holding in front of him.

“Maybe he lives alone with his dead mother?” offered Evelyn.

Artist: Le Butcherettes (Sin Sin Sin)
No Lyrics, just guitar, bass, and drums.

From Chapter Four: “Oh no,” she said, “My parents are home.”
“What!” Sammy nearly shoved Evelyn onto the floor as he scrambled away from her and off of the bed. “Already?”

“Yes.” She rolled the rest of the way off the bed and onto her feet.

“But, I can’t be up here!” he hissed.

“Well,” she said, hastily smoothing out the wrinkles in her skirt. “It’s too late now.”

“But we weren’t doing anything!”

5.    Song: “Sweet Annie”
Artist: Reina del Cid (The Cooling)
Lyrics: “If you ever leave me I'd grab my gun and start a war.”

From Chapter Seven: Christian.
“Sometimes he drinks too much,” she would tell Christian, sitting on the side of his bed to wake him for school. “He doesn’t mean to hurt me. It’s not him. It’s the alcohol. Promise me you will never drink, mijo. Promise me.” She would say all this in the still dark of early morning, her face in shadow, her voice a careful whisper. “He works hard. He takes care of us. He doesn’t really mean it. He’s a good man, Christian.”

But he wasn’t.

6.    Song: “Kiss Me Again”
Artist: Jessica Lea Mayfield (With Blasphemy So Heartfelt)
Lyrics: “Well you can kiss me again if you want, I don't mind. Well you can kiss me again if you want, oh that'd be fine.”

From Chapter Seven: Sammy and Evelyn get their intellectual flirt on.
“That’s if you believe in destiny,” she said.

“So, if I hadn’t walked into that room and found you by yourself that night at Brianna’s party, then it would have been some other meeting, some other crossing of our life threads?”

“Like college?”

“Yeah, maybe we go to the same college and you’re an art student, and I’m a starving engineering major, trying to make some extra money, working part-time as one of those nude art models.”

“And I take one look at your Adonis body and fall in love with you instantly?”

“And then when you take me out to dinner—”

“Because you’re starving?”

“Yes, and you find that I’m not just extremely good looking, but I have a brain, too.”

“Which, of course, is what I’m really interested in,” she said, working around to his side of the canvas as she painted. “But what if it wasn’t our destiny to meet, but we did by chance?”

“Oh, so we’re breaking the rules of fate,” he said, “cheating destiny every minute we’re together?”

“Wow, what a romantic you are. Cheating destiny? Changing the future?”

“Hey,” He bent over the paint tray with his roller, but when he stood up his hands were empty. “If Evelyn Hernandez could actually be my girlfriend, anything is possible.”

She left her roller where it was on top of the wet canvas and then she was in his arms and they were kissing.

“Hey!” Jason and Denise called out at the same time. “Get back to work, you two!”

Artist: New Order (Brotherhood)
Lyrics: “I do admit to myself, that if I hurt someone else, then I'll never see just what we're meant to be.”

From Chapter Eight: Awkward…

“I…” she began, but then something behind them caught her eye, and both Karen and Denise turned to follow her gaze. It was the kid. He was sitting at his table again.

“I have to go over there,” she said. “I have to talk to him.”

Just as Evelyn stood up, Sammy and Jason came walking around the corner of the art building. She quickly sat down again.

“We thought we’d surprise you,” said Sammy, “but it looks like you were expecting us.”

8.    Song: “Soniatl”
Artist: Chicano Batman (Chicano Batman)
Lyrics: “Soniatl sigue soñando sueños alegres porque amarillo es tu color.”

From Chapter Eight: Did not see this coming…
Evelyn looked down at the bright yellow skirt extending from beneath Sammy’s grey sweatshirt. He called it her Morton Salt dress and said she reminded him of the girl on the container when she wore it. “Thank you,” she said, self-consciously tugging the hem down over the white tights of her knees and smoothing out the fabric against her lap. She could feel Mara’s eyes following the movement of her hands.

9.    Song: “The Unforgiven”
Artist: Metallica (fifth album)
Lyrics: “Never free. Never me. So I dub thee unforgiven.”

From Chapter Eight: (No comment.)
The only sound now was the rhythmic chunk of the shovel in the ground, the hiss of dirt off the blade, and the thump of it landing outside the deepening pit. The hole began to take on an oblong shape, and eventually he was standing knee deep in it. Chunk, hiss, thump. Just beneath these sounds, Evelyn thought she heard him say something to her, until she realized he was singing to himself, tunelessly at first, but steadily gaining in volume.
10. Song: “La La La”
Artist: Naughty Boy - feat. Sam Smith (Hotel Cabana)
Lyrics: “I’m covering my ears like a kid. When your words mean nothing I go, la la la.”

From Chapter Eight: (Yes, a lot happens in Chapter Eight)
He gave her a sideways look. “Oh, psychology. Okay, I’ll play. I want a smokin’ hot girlfriend that looks just like Mila Kunis. I want a Chevrolet Corvette Stingray in velocity yellow. I want a house on the beach in LA with one of those infinity pools that look like they go right out into the ocean. And I want—” He was suddenly quiet.

Artist: Wolf Alice (My Love is Cool)
Lyrics: “She's overachieving, chasing her dreams, And coming down slowly, yeah, it's out of control.”

From Chapter Twelve: Back in the Dean’s Office…
“What you have to understand, Evelyn,” said Tyler, “is that it’s because of what happened to you that I worry. Yes, you are a good student, but you do have a history of risky behaviors. You can’t deny that.” He leaned forward, folding his hands beneath his chin. “Addiction is not something anyone sets out to do, Evelyn. It starts with having a little fun, or just looking for an escape, or just wanting to fit in, but then it owns you, it destroys you and everyone who cares about you, and you can never escape it. Do you understand what I’m trying to say, Evelyn?”

Artist: Low (Ones and Sixes)
Lyrics: “Can’t you see that I’m bleedin' out here? Waking up from a dreamin' out here.”

Chapter Fifteen:
She wanted it to be true with all her being. Her fingers ached for control, itched to hold a pencil, to push and pull and drag those details from the shadowy margins of possibility and fix them permanently on the empty page.

The twin blades of fear and hope seemed to pierce her chest and she gasped, a quick, shuddering breath.

At the sound, her mother turned to look at her, her searching eyes weary with the impossibility of understanding, alive with the same hope. “Bad dream?” she whispered.