That day on the bus going home, Sharon told me that for the first time in months she had gotten through the day without being harassed by the phonies. Apparently, they’d all been too busy fighting with each other over Delores and Jill to notice us goats. Everything was working out fine as far as Sharon was concerned.
At home that night on the phone Sam and I had it out. It seemed to me that the power had gone to his head and that his head had gotten all swollen from his recent success as a strategist and booby-trap setter. He said that he was not interested in worrying about art geeks like Clark Winthrop. He also said that I was too soft and emotional to be a good revolutionary.
“Art geeks?! Art geeks!?!” I screamed. “Those are exactly the people we are having this revolution for! Aren’t art geeks goats?”
“No,” said Sam, in this unnervingly calm tone of voice, “We’re the goats, and anybody who isn’t fighting with us is against us. Art geeks don’t fight so they’re not goats.”
“First of all,” I tried my best to make my voice calm, but it was real shaky. I was trying really hard not to cry, “No one but us even knows about our little revolution, so how could Clark fight with us when he doesn’t even know about us? Secondly, artists are revolutionaries all the time, not just sometimes, like we’re being right now. A week ago you were just another dumb kid smoking cigarettes and hanging out. Clark’s been a revolutionary all along. Haven’t you seen that beautiful painting hanging in the auditorium? It spits in the face of all those mean kids every day and says, Look at this, you bunch of phonies, I’m going to put beauty in the world no matter how mean and cruel you try to make it!” I was on a roll… “And you know what, it spits in your face too and so do I!” Then I hung up before he could answer and sort of stunned at what I had said.
I was still shaking when the phone rang and I grabbed for it so it wouldn’t ring twice and wake up my dad. I knocked it on the floor and it made a clanging jingling sound. The receiver lay there on the floor and Sam’s voice came out of it.
“I’m sorry,” the small voice said, “I’ll do my best to protect Clark…” I picked up the phone and put the receiver to my ear to hear the rest, “I just don’t know how. The truth is, Carson, I don’t really know what I’m doing.”
“I know,” I said.
“Can you sneak out?” he asked.
“Okay,” I said and hung up the phone.
Sneaking out was not as big a deal as it sounds. Sam had grown up across the street from each other and had been sneaking out for years and meeting under, or in, the willow tree next to his house and directly across from mine. It was our neutral territory. That night he tried to tell me something, but he never really got to it.
I’d been having these weird, crazy flashes every once in awhile that Sam was in love with me or something. He’d been acting so weird. He hated it when I defended Clark, Steve Parnelli, or any other guy. It’s like I wasn’t allowed to think any boys were nice except for him. But, I had to be wrong. We were like brother and sister. It would be soooo weird if he liked me liked me. Too weird to even think about, so I ditched the idea.
Phase two of the plan had gotten under way without any additional help from the goats. Dolores got Jill back with water balloons filled with red, yellow and blue colored water (the primary colors, though I doubt Jill knew). Dolores paid her younger brother and his friends five dollars each to surround Jill on their bikes and nail her when she got off the bus after school.
Sam and Sharon and I worried we couldn’t compete with the financial resources of some of the phonies such as Dolores, but Sam reminded us we were guerrillas. This did not mean we were apes. This meant we were an under-financed secret army of street-smart fighters who were extra smart, cunning and brave. I liked the way that sounded. In stories I always root for the underdog.
We all agreed to see how things evolved before making our next move. The Jill camp was very upset about Dolores’ retaliation. No doubt, they would retaliate as well. We decided since the phonies were making each other so miserable without our help, we should stay out of the way and conserve our resources. We agreed to have a goats meeting in one week at The Ice House. Sam had given up smoking. He wanted to keep his head clear for the revolution. He figured the nicotine was affecting his judgment at least a little. He’d noticed this once when he couldn’t concentrate without a cigarette. He didn’t have any one day and he couldn’t get any of the local merchants to sell to him (there was a crackdown that week) so he went around trying to bum one and either everyone was out or they wouldn’t give him one and he wasted like an hour of his life trying to find one and finally decided that was enough, he would no longer be owned by the god of nicotine, he said.
I thought it was a wise choice, I told him that and that I was proud of him for doing it because I knew it was really hard. He seemed to be happy for the praise, but too proud to accept it, so he got back to business as quickly as he could.
“We’ve got to keep things going, but under the surface,” he said. “Just a little nudge to keep the fires of discontent and suspicion stoked, something small, not too big.”
“A note?” Sharon thought.
“How about a cooty-catcher?” I suggested, “One that predicts the futures of certain someones.”
“I LOVE it!” said Sharon.
“Elaborate.” said Sam.
I didn’t say this part for Sam because he already knew, but in case you don’t know, or don’t call it that where you live, a cooty-catcher is a folded piece of paper that is shaped like a diamond and it fits over your fingers. Each triangle on its surface has a different picture or word or number and underneath those words, pictures and numbers are different words, pictures or numbers that keep leading inward until you get to the end when the paper is unfolded and there is a message about your future or something. You count your way inside by either the number of letters in the word or object in the picture as you spell it out, or by the number, or whatever- opening and closing the cooty-catcher in different directions- and the when you stop, the person whose future is being told chooses one of the surfaces. You do it three or four times and then you open and read what’s under the final picture and that’s the person’s fate, or it’s a joke, or it says something about the person’s personality, or whatever you want to put.
This part I said to Sam. “So we could write secrets about them all and we could put the cooty-catcher in one of their lockers to start it off and see where it goes from there.”
“So you mean like there’s a picture of a pig and a donkey and underneath it says Denise Maura and Rudy Walker made out in the fort at the park. You mean like that?” Sharon asked.
“Yeah, I guess so,” I said. I hadn’t really thought that far, I just wanted to make the cooty-catcher.
“Everyone knows that secret” Sam said. “ It’s common knowledge by now. The secrets have to be much better, much more secret. Stuff only they could know about each other.”
“But how will we find out stuff only they know about each other?” I asked.
Sam and Sharon looked at each other, then at me. They both knew what the other was thinking.
“You, Carson. You have to become their friend,” said Sam.
“Carson,” said Sharon. “You’re the perfect double agent! Didn’t Denise Maura say to you that they had nothing against you, only against me? That they liked you even?”
“Yeah, but I pretty much ruined that when I told them that if they didn’t like one of my best friends then they shouldn’t like me either because I didn’t like them!”
“That won’t matter,” said Sam, “you’ll pretend you and Sharon got in a fight and that you don’t like her anymore.”
“I’m not a good liar,” I lied. I actually can be, when I really convince myself of the lie. I have a good imagination. I like drama and might become an actress one day. But this was the problem, I had to believe in the lie. To do this, Sharon and I were going to need to have a pretty mean fight.
That night, the night of the Ice House meeting – the meeting that I now see shifted everything – Judy called my house. Luckily, I had been standing right next to the phone when it rang, having just hung up from a post Ice House meeting strategy phone session with Sam about details of how I would fool the phonies into thinking I was their friend, and picked up half way into the first ring. As I kind of touched on before, my dad hated it when the phone rang after ten o’clock at night and if he knew the call was for me he would have gone into a rampage. Even though it was just a tiny little cha-ling sound, he heard it and called down.
“Carson! Are you on the phone?!” he bellowed.
“No dad, it rang once and stopped. Must-a-been a wrong number.” I called back.
“Well get to bed.” He yelled.
“On my way.” I yelled back. “Hello.” I said into the phone.
“What was that all about?” Judy said back to me.
“He doesn’t like phone calls after ten p.m.” I said.
“Kind of a control freak, isn’t he?”
“Yeah.” I said, That’s putting it mildly, I thought. “What’s up?”
Her voice sounded cheerful and casual as she told me of her temporary homeless sitch as she put it. It didn’t seem all that temporary to me, she’d been more or less homeless since we met, but this time something seemed different. As casual as she tried to make it sound, there was something jagged and dark in her voice. I felt a sudden chill and got covered in goose bumps, but maybe it was just my imagination.
“Can’t you stay in the old lady’s house?” I suggested.
“No, I can’t. Not this time,” she said. “You see Mrs. Chin is back for the weekend and having a big fancy party with all of these society types. It wouldn’t be cool for me to impose.”
“But it’s such a big place, so many rooms! They wouldn’t even know you were there!”
“Carson, NO!” She practically bit my head off. Then she caught herself and her voice became gentle. “Sorry kiddo. I’m a little on edge. There’s just some things you’re still too young to understand…”
It was the first time she’d spoken to me like that. Like I was a kid and it made me mad, but pretty soon she’d talked me into letting her crash at my house. I told her to come in an hour to my bedroom window and I’d let her in the French doors. It was pretty risky since my dad was home, but by then I figured he’d be asleep and luckily my brother was away on a ski trip or else he would surely catch us and blab to my dad because he’s so obsessed with my life and getting me into trouble. He’s not at all protective like older brothers are supposed to be.
Three hours later, after I had finally fallen asleep, I heard a tap, tap, tapping at my window. I woke up and peeked out one of the French doors onto the deck. Our house is built into the side of a canyon and my room is downstairs. It used to be the master bedroom, but then my parents added on a “master suite” for themselves upstairs. I guess it’s a pretty nice room for a teenager. Judy certainly thought so, I could tell by the look on her face, as she climbed from the canyon, from where she’d been tossing Skittles at my windows, and into my bedroom.
“Cool beans, kiddo. This place is live.” She said looking at one of my Groucho Marx posters that says, I must confess, I was born at a very early age. “That’s funny.” She said.
Even though it’s one of my favorite types of humor, i.e. subtle with lots of levels, and I was glad to see she seemed to appreciated it, I was mad, so I didn’t even smile. “Where have you been?! I’ve been waiting for hours!” I shot back at her.
She could tell I was really annoyed, but pretty soon she was braiding my hair and eating a snack I’d made of peanut butter, butter, and American cheese crackers. Obviously, I’m a pushover, but she can be pretty charming with all those white teeth smiling at you over a giant glass of milk.
We stayed up the rest of the night and I updated her all about the revolution and how the mean kids were leaving Sharon alone and how Sharon and Sam wanted me to cross over to the other side and be a double agent. She cautioned me to be careful of things backfiring. I never did find out exactly why she had to leave her friend’s house where she’d been staying. Just that things got weird and it was definitely time to book.
I don’t know how it happened, but somehow we ended up talking about my mom. About how she got drunk at every Christmas and all of my birthday parties and how I couldn’t bring anyone home because she would embarrass me in front of my friends. About how mad I was at her for not caring enough to quit drinking.
She understood my anger, but she said that no one can really understand anyone else from the inside out and that we shouldn’t judge my mom because maybe she really was doing the best she could under her present circumstances. By present circumstances I knew she meant my dad. Maybe I didn’t really have all the information, she said. If I was afraid of my father, think how it must be for her.
“Then why doesn’t she just get a divorce and move out?!” I cried. “I’d go with her.”
“Maybe it’s not that simple,” Judy said, “Like I said, you can never really know someone else’s life.”
Boy did that turn out to be true, only not just about my mom, but about Sam too. I’m getting ahead of the story though.
I fell asleep in Judy’s arms with her petting my head and calling me kitten. I wasn’t mad at her anymore.