Strays

If you’ve read any of this blog, you’ve met Deanna Collings. Meet Jackson, the other star of The Hot Girl.

Long Beach, CA. Summer 1981

“Sky? Whoa. S’up, kid? You’re a ways from San Diego County. Your mom know you’re here?” Jackson backed away from the door of his apartment to let his ex-neighbor by. He recognized the electric guitar case almost as big as the girl, took in the dirty converses along with the red eyes, pink nose and windblown hair. “Hey, hey. Whoa for real to you.” He put out his hand and tried to stop the giant, filthy gray dog right on her heels who ignored him, followed her inside, sniffed up his small living room and flopped on the old hardwood under the open living room window.

“S’up yourself, Jackson. No. Mom doesn’t…I took the bus. I hate San Diego. Fucking hate it. And I, well not me, some total jerkface broke my guitar and it’s all mom’s fault because this jerkface she was dating has this kid, he’s the first jerkface I said, and he twisted the tuning keys too much and some other stuff and the whammy bar is all loose and now my guitar is all messed up and will never be okay.”

“Broken axe is no reason to bail on home. You know you can call me, we’ll deal. What else you got makes a bus ride from SD worth it?”

“Mom said I was stupid for wanting to play softball. With you. But everybody says I’m good. And I really need help with my summer school English teacher, Jackson, ‘cause she hates me. Everybody messes with me all the time down there and everybody hates me…” She leaned her electric guitar case on the couch, sat down next to it and started to snuffle. Jackson didn’t like to deal with women in their twenties to nineties crying. Almost thirteen broke his heart.

“Coke? I have the brownies you hipped me to from Stenson’s, some stale cinnamon rolls Logan brought from the good Lucky’s in Brentwood, and Oreos.”

“Coke. Please. And an Oreo?” She huge snuffled. He set a box of Kleenex next to her on the way to the fridge, dropped the storyboard for the commercial he’d been working on in the kitchen. Like him, it wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry.

“I like your new couches, Jackson. And clean pillows and stuff. Dash’s stuff was gross. I’m sorry I’m here, but I couldn’t do it anymore, and you’re like the only real runaway I ever met. So…” The tears came again, big and round, without noise.

“I’m not a real runaway, Sky. I guess I was, in a way. I waited so long to leave I had to run and I did do a pretty bunk job of it.” He squeezed her shoulder, handed her a Coke with ice and a straw in a tall, real glass, set the Oreos on the end table. He’d helped her through enough homework afternoons when she’d lived next door to know Sky and one Oreo wasn’t going to happen.

She snuffled again. “Cool! Real glass? For me?” She looked at him, big red eyes and a little bit of snotty nose. She started to wipe it all on her sleeve, he caught it, gave her a dish towel with a damp corner he’d brought with the Cokes, nudged the Kleenex box toward her.

“Not much longer on the glass, kid. Twelve is done and you’re done. I save the plastic ones for grownups.”

“Then I won’t have another birthday.”

“Yeah you will. You can lie and tell me you’re twelve when you’re not. I forget about birthdays and how many of them. Stupid, huh?”

“Yeah, kinda. ‘Cause everybody has one. Mom says hers have stopped but that’s BS. Don’t tell, but she has gray hairs now. She has to dye them.”

“Call her for me? You might be responsible for some of those gray hairs.”

“‘Kay. In a minute.” They sat in silence with their Cokes, interrupted by occasional snuffle recovery nose blowing.

“Where’d you get the dog?”

“From around the corner by the bus stop. Like it was waiting for me.”

“He stinks.”

“Yeah, but she’s really nice, and she scared off the Deja Vu parking lot pervs.” Sky tossed a twisted off Oreo top to the dog who caught and inhaled it.

“Jesus.” Jackson leaned onto his knees, put his hand on top of the case. “Show me your guitar?”

“Yeah. I’m sorry he broke it. Jerkface. I haven’t been to my lesson in two whole weeks.”

She popped the case latches, lifted the lid. He was expecting a hanging headstock, splinters, guitar guts. What he got were three broken strings, a bent tuning key and a loose whammy bar from the missing strings.

“Nothing major, but it’s still a pisser, huh? Only a head case would mess with your axe that way. What’d your mom say?”

“She said one day I’d understand that girls need some attention certain kinds of ways and she, well, she was sorry and she’d wait till I was older. For men and stuff to be in the house again and everything, and she was sorry, too, ‘cause anybody who’d break my guitar was stupid and maybe dangerous and I didn’t need to be around people like that.”

“Good for her.” He waited, let her snuffle a couple of times.

“Mom said I was the only thing she ever did right, not letting me be her ‘nother abortion, and nothing better ever happen to me ‘cause I was her gift. Her one little ray of hope that someday being a girl wouldn’t be so screwed up, even if I cuss too much and I get mad at people for acting stupid.” She snuffled, smaller this time. “Can you believe she said that?”

“Yeah. Truth? It took serious mom guts to tell you how much she really does love you all rolled up in that. Don’t worry about the cussing and getting mad. I know a couple of girls a lot like you, didn’t seem to stop them.”

“Did they grow up okay?”

He thought about that one for a few ticks. “I think growin’ up is something we do forever.” He sipped his Coke while he waited for that to hit. “Your mom doesn’t want you to play softball?”

“Only at the park with the little league mixed team. Not with you. She says I’m too young and too much trouble and shouldn’t bother you with all my junk and the only reason is ‘cause I want to hang out with the TV people I saw you with in the paper. And that’s BS, too. ‘Cause I can play okay for a girl and your team’s all girls mostly and I’m not too much trouble. Except for mom. And summer school. Since we moved my English grades suck again and my teachers all hate me ‘cause I’m flippant. That’s what they all say. Flippant.”

“You look it up?”

“It means smart ass when you can’t say smart ass.”

“There you go. It’s like skin, kinda. Get used to it, ‘cause it stays with you, trust me. And look, people make excuses for you not being able to do stuff without really getting to it. Your mom works some Saturdays and it’s a haul in all the traffic up to Long Beach or Santa Monica from SD. Ask her about that, see if there’s something you can work out. Better grades and sitting on flippant might net you a ride.”

“You think?”

“Duh.” He grinned, clinked her glass. “You get square with your mom and summer school. You show, you can play.” He’d never thought of charity softball being used as academic performance leverage, but here it was. “You know why we play softball?”

“For some charity, mom said.”

“That’s right. It’s the ‘somebody always has time to help girls with troubles’ charity. Call your mom, tell her where you are. I’ll talk her down and you go wash your face. We’ll get right with your mom first, then we can go get your guitar fixed, grab an In ‘n Out. We can hit that English workbook in your case if you want. I can even run you back down there later if your mom needs me to.”

“Like right now? My guitar and everything? We can do all that?”

“Yep.” He dropped the lid and latched her case. “From here you look a lot like one of those girls with troubles. And I look like the somebody who needs to have some time.” He took her empty glass, left an Oreo on the table, tossed one to the dog. “Go call your mom.” He checked the stinky mess of gray dog again. “Before all her hair turns gray.”

***

Jackson slid Sky’s guitar case in and down, eased the hatch closed on the new Corolla hatchback that had replaced her mom’s gasping Pinto. Watched in silence while Sky tugged on her mom’s arm, showed her the one hour photos. “No shit, Mom! Look! Honey Muffin from Skanque! She helped fix my guitar! Mine! Can you believe it? She used to live here, ‘member?” He walked around the car, got a big hug from Sky and a one-armed upset but thank you mom-ish hug from Star.

“Thanks. Again.” Star tilted her head toward the passenger side of the car.

“You’re welcome.” He closed the car door, leaned down into the window. “You two cut each other some slack, okay? You’re all you’ve got for family, and lonesome sucks.”

“We got you, too, Mr. Jackson. And now you got us and that big, stinky dog.”

“I come out ahead on that deal, even with the dog. Sky?” He put his finger on his temple. “Hit record, print this. Call me before you ever get on a bus again.” He waited until the Corolla made the left toward the ocean in the Long Beach twilight before he turned around, looked at the tall, matted, gray haired dumpster stank with four feet standing in front of him.

“What the hell am I supposed to do with you?” The Wolfhound put its front paws on his shoulders, licked his nose. He glanced down, did a gender check. Sky had been right about he being a she. “Just what I need in my life. One more female runaway.”

Photo Credit- Gresham Guitars

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Published by

Phil Huston

https://philh52.wordpress.com/

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