The opening chapters of NS/SS

Below are the opening chapters of my novel North Shore / South Shore. The whole novel consists of six parts and spans about seven months in the characters’ lives. Also, check out the Family Tree page (link at the top).

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Prologue

A Son’s Victory

 

It’s 9:30 a.m. and it’s time for your local news. Denis Baptiste, Jr. was arrested while exiting his Westside apartment today.

The words sliced through the quiet Kylie had enjoyed during her drive to school. The voice from the radio continued. Prosecutors are confident that this time they will succeed in their efforts to bring down the head of the Baptiste family, something they couldn’t do when Denis Baptiste, Sr. was alive.  We have this comment from the District Attorney, “We took a very powerful, very dangerous man off the streets of New York City today. I hope this sends a message to anyone involved in organized crime.  The charges will stick this time. The Baptiste family can count on it.” Counsel for the Baptiste family had no comment as of yet. And now with our weather, Bobby Jensen. Bobby. Thanks, Jim. Well, it is definitely getting colder. Winter is com

Kylie pulled into a parking spot in Christ the Savior University’s student lot and turned off the radio. She took a deep breath and told herself (unconvincingly) that everything would be fine. She thought of calling the lawyers, but then she figured she would call her Aunt Erica first.

Or maybe she would just wait until someone called her.

Kylie peeled off her new Hermes calfskin gloves and threw them on the passenger seat. Then she let her head drop back onto the unforgiving cushion of the headrest. Kylie turned her head gently and let her eyes fall on the gloves sitting in a small lifeless pile. One of her Uncle’s friends had given them to her, a man who went by the name “Diablo.” Kylie had met him this past summer and since then they dated on and off. As she looked at the pair of gloves beside her, Kylie wondered what part he would play in this mess.

She turned her head back to center and took another deep breath. The last time her uncle was arrested she was a kid—and at that time, she didn’t understand the gravity of the situation. Kylie didn’t care too much about it either. She was told that the family wouldn’t be going to Uncle Denis and Aunt Erica’s for the annual Labor Day barbeque. No explanation followed. She whined a bit about not seeing her cousin Colette, but her mother offered no sympathy. As a kid, Kylie thought she’d done something wrong and the punishment was no party.

Kylie loved playing with Colette. And on Labor Day, the entire family played in a Mille Bournes tournament. The card game was one of the few elements of French culture that peppered her family life. And that’s not saying much. Even still, Kylie bragged to her friends at school about the game. The other kids looked puzzled when she barely knew how to play Uno. “Don’t you have this at home?” they asked.

“Sure, we do.” Kylie answered—always sure of herself (even when she wasn’t sure of herself). “But we don’t play that. We play,” she paused before saying the name with the best French accent she could muster, hoping to sound just like her grandmother, “Mille Bournes…It’s a French game.”

As she stared blankly at the car parked opposite hers, Kylie smiled recalling the thoughtless enjoyment of being a child. She smirked thinking about how Colette never played by the rules. In a game of Parcheesi, Kylie’s cousin wanted to use the small pieces to play “nail salon” instead. Kylie’s older brother Collin would find them downstairs with red, blue, yellow, and green plastic game pieces stuck to the ends of their fingers.

But the slight levity those memories conjured quickly turned to concern for Colette. How was she dealing with the news? After all,  her father was arrested and not Kylie’s.

Then she thought once more about Uncle Denis’s first arrest. Kylie wondered what Colette was told when her father was taken from his Massapequa home in handcuffs.

Kylie had one distinct memory of that arrest. The memory broke its way into her mind and she winced. The night before her first day in the third grade, Kylie came downstairs and saw her mother and Aunt Erica fighting. As she watched them yell curses at each other, her father noticed her standing at the bottom of the staircase. “Go to your room and put the television on. I’ll be up in a minute.”

It was a few hours before he came up. When he did, Kylie’s father told her that nothing was wrong. “Mommy and Aunt Erica are just talking about…grown-up stuff. That’s all.” She believed him like she always had. Before Kylie knew it, third grade was finished, summer came, and the family was barbequing at her Uncle’s house once again. All was well. No one talked about the year before.

Kylie felt that same helplessness now that she felt at the bottom of the stairs that night. The sense that something was dreadfully wrong and there was no way to fix it. Except this time, Patrick Baines wasn’t there to assure her everything was fine. And this time, she was old enough to know that if he were there, he’d be lying.

Kylie looked down and she was glad she still had on her seatbelt. Even though she’d been parked for at least ten minutes, the belt across her lap and chest made her feel less dizzy. Kylie put her left hand up to the driver’s side window. The glass was cold from the November air and it felt good on the bare skin of her palm. Then the loud ring of her cell phone scared her.  She didn’t even look at the caller I.D.

“Hello?” Her voice cracked and she took a big swallow to compensate.

“It’s Brice, Kylie,” her cousin said curtly.

“Brice?” Kylie’s voice raised an octave from the shock. Why was he calling? She was expecting her mother, or her aunt or Colette or even her cousin Blaise. Her heart beat faster and she clutched the seatbelt at her chest.

“Yes, Kylie. It’s Brice. Have you heard yet?” His strong voice was businesslike, unpleasant.

“Of course, I’ve heard. But I’m sure you were the first to know.” Kylie was already on the defensive. Brice was only calling to gloat.

He continued smugly, “Good. They took my father to the 20th precinct on West 82nd Street. He’ll be held there until the hearing tomorrow.  We are going to move very fast on this. We have all the information we need for a quick trial.”

This was a proud day for Brice Baptiste. Kylie knew he meant to purge this city of its vices—even if it meant taking down his own father. He was clearly buoyant from the arrest, relishing his decision to call his father’s favorite niece.

“We? What does that mean Brice?” Kylie shook her head and nervously loosened her scarf. The morning was getting worse by the minute.

“Of course, I mean ‘my office.’ I’m not getting involved in this case. It’s a conflict of interest. The judge would never stand for it. And the D.A. is not risking anything. We’re getting our conviction this time.”

“Is that all?” Kylie’s jaw tightened as she realized that the D.A. actually might have a good chance with Brice masterminding the whole case. Brice had all his father’s cleverness, all his father’s ruthlessness, and none of his father’s loyalty.

“Don’t act like you’re surprised he was arrested. The man is a murderer, Kylie.” Brice spit the words out at her, full of resentment. His satisfaction enraged her.

“Brice, the man is your father.”

“You don’t choose your father.” He snapped.

“It’s too bad you can’t choose your children either.” Kylie returned. Despite Brice being such an awful prick, she never thought he would be involved in building a case against his own family. She assumed he would make some comment to the press explaining how difficult his position was—probably trying to get the people on the prosecution’s side. She imagined his insufferably pedantic voice as he said how patriotic he was, how invested in the judicial system he was, how much he cared for Long Island and the city.

“Listen, Kylie, this is big boy stuff. A little college girl like you wouldn’t really understand my situation right now, so let’s not fight. I never had anything against you. We’re family.”

“Oh, I’d love to understand your situation,” she returned sarcastically. “I’d love to know what would possess someone to destroy his own family. Congrats on being the world’s biggest asshole!”

He switched to a strong whisper. Brice was calling from his office. “Settle down. Like I said, I’m not involved with this case.”

“Whatever. Why did you call?” Kylie rolled her eyes and gripped the steering wheel with both hands until her knuckles turned white.

“Hey, I am doing you a favor by calling you like this. Do you know how much trouble I could get into? I’m trying to help my cousin before she makes any stupid decisions.”

“I’m not sure I want any of your favors.”

“Fine, I’ll get to the point. I have other things to do today anyway. I’m calling to tell you to cooperate with us. I can get you and Blaise out of this. If you don’t, well, let’s just say, it won’t be good. Like I said, we have plenty of information.” His voice sounded like he took pleasure in telling her this, a sadistic threatening pleasure.

“Are you saying you’re going to have me and Blaise arrested?” Kylie sat up in the driver’s seat. Her anger was diluted by fear now.

“No one is saying anything.” He was always good at being vague. She always thought he spoke like that because he was too cowardly to take a real position on anything.

“No, Assistant District Attorney Brice Baptiste, you seem to be telling me that I am going to get arrested for shit I had nothing to do with!” As she yelled, Kylie felt the blood fill the fair skin of her neck and face,  “I didn’t do anything wrong!  And neither has Uncle Denis. Maybe he’s made some mistakes in the past but today—today, you’re the one who made the mistake!” Kylie didn’t even understand herself by that point. She was totally consumed by the weird mixture of hatred and anxiety. If the D.A.’s office had found Mark, maybe Brice was on to something.

“Listen, you little brat, you can’t threaten me. I’m the one who’s taking names today.”

“I’m not threatening you Brice. Facts aren’t threats.” Kylie’s mind had left the conversation though. Now all she could think about was her ex-boyfriend Mark. Where was he? Did the D.A. have him? What would he say about her, about her whole family?

“You know, I thought I was being nice. But now I see that you are an ungrateful little bitch. A brat, just like Blaise.  I’ll just say this. My father is going to drop this time. We have what we need to convict him. And the D.A. is going for life. You and my brother—you’re both just sport.  So, just make sure you cooperate with everything we say and maybe… maybe you can come out of this unscathed.”

“Where’d all this information come from?” Kylie’s voice was shaky, anticipating the name “Mark Esposito” in Brice’s answer.

“Obviously, I’m not at liberty to discuss that with one of the most important people under investigation. At least not without your lawyer present, Kylie. Or shall I say, ‘Styles’?”

Hearing her nickname hit a nerve. Kylie knew that although he’d never admit it to her, Brice always resented that she had some control in the family business, that she was one of his father’s most trusted employees.

“Fuck you, Brice. You know where I am. You know where I’ll be tomorrow and the next day. Just bring whatever you have on me. And I’ll deal with it.”

“That’s a potty mouth you got there, cousin. This will be a true test for you, Kylie. I sincerely hope you make it through.”

“Fuck you, Brice.”

“You said that already, my dear.” He was snickering.

“It just feels good to tell you to go fuck yourself.” She hung up her phone and threw it down on the passenger seat. It bounced and landed somewhere on the floor.

Kylie slammed her hands on her steering wheel and yelled, “Shit!” Tears came to her eyes and fogged up her sunglasses. She dropped her head on the wheel and began to let herself cry, but once she surrendered herself to the tears, they wouldn’t come. She breathed deeply for a minute, trying to shake Brice’s words. She undid her scarf, turned the car back on and turned the air conditioning on. She didn’t care how cold it was outside right now. The cool blast ran over her neck and face. Kylie hoped it would wash away the redness in her cheeks.

After a few more big sighs, she felt a little better.

Chapter 1

 Deep Breaths

(KYLIE)

 

After I hung up the phone, I sat in my car and stared for a moment—trapped in the replay of the conversation that just happened. I hate when life feels like it’s happening to you. You’re not living it. You’re just being rolled over by its events. And all you can do is stand outside yourself and watch—like you’re in a movie or TV show or something. That’s how I feel sometimes—blurry and surreal.

My mom called as I started walking to Darcy Hall, already fifteen minutes late for my meeting with Professor Barnes.  Mom was the last person I wanted to talk to. And, of course, I immediately felt guilty for the big sigh I let out when I heard her worried voice on the other end. I wouldn’t have even answered but it was too late. Between the juggling of my bag and my many layers of clothing, I forgot to look at the caller I.D.

And I was hoping it was my cousin Blaise calling. Not that Blaise was the type to have a plan, but at least I could commiserate with him about our situation.

To make things worse I made the stupid mistake of telling her that Brice had called me. Before she called she was just worried about my uncle’s arrest. Now her concern was doubled. I was sure she was just sitting there thinking that I would be arrested that day too. Even I was panicking about that. As I walked quickly up the endless row of cars, my eyes darted between the many potholes in CSU’s student lot and the lot’s entrance.  Where were the NYPD squad cars? Where were the Channel 5 News trucks?

Then something else grabbed my attention. I saw another Mercedes CLK—this time in navy blue. I had never seen another car like that in the student lot. Like a Benz or Jaguar or Beamer. It was brand-new too. Most students drove little Hondas or old SUVs their parents gave them. No one takes a car like that into this part of the Bronx. I looked back at my own CLK and regretted how dirty it was. (Should’ve never gotten the car in white.)

After walking a few minutes I felt slightly better.  Better considering that I just found out my uncle had been arrested, my thickheaded egomaniacal cousin was probably going to prosecute his own father, I would probably be called in to testify, and I was late for school—the only semblance of normality in my life. To top it all off, I just basically hung up on my mom who was only calling to make sure I was okay. I think it was just numbness from the cold instead of actually feeling better. My mind was still everywhere.  I just had to calm down.

Breathe in.

I felt the crisp November air flow into my nose. This week the wind was assaulting compared to the fifty-degrees and partly sunny we had last week. It whirled around and pushed against my steps, making me take notice of it like an annoying younger sibling.

When my life feels like it’s going to shit, I sometimes focus on my breathing.  It gives me something steady to concentrate on, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not some kind of yoga guru who meditates all the time. And I know it’s cheesy but when I think about my breathing, suddenly I become aware of my life in a different way. I feel solitary, but not in a self-pitying way.  Not isolated, just solitary.

My bag got gradually heavier on the long walk to Darcy Hall on the other side of campus, almost to the new library. I switched it to the other shoulder and now the monogram faced inward and laid up against the side of my body. I thought about that monogram for a moment. KCB. Kylie Carine Baines. I was suddenly glad that my real last name wasn’t Baptiste. But then I realized…it doesn’t matter anyway. No one knew me as Kylie Baines, daughter of a school district superintendent Patrick Baines. I was Styles Baptiste, the niece of Denis Baptiste, Jr. who ran one of the biggest crime families in New York.

Mark, with all his bright ideas, said the name change would be great for our nightclub. The name “Baptiste” would bring everyone in. And it did. And for a time, things worked out great.

Mark Esposito. That name came slithering out of the corners of my mind since Brice called this morning. And now it had made its way to the bottom of my stomach where it contorted around and wringed out my energy. I had no nostalgic feelings towards my ex-boyfriend. A lot had happened since we opened that club.

But I shouldn’t be wasting my time on Mark and the past. I needed to keep my head on straight. I had a lot to take care of with school, and a lot more to take care of when I got home. Thinking about my ex was the last thing I needed to do. I called Blaise, hoping he had some details.

Yo, it’s Blaise. You know the drill.

I’ve always hated his stupid voicemail message. I stopped in my tracks and nearly growled. Why wasn’t he answering his cell? There was a good chance that while my uncle was arrested he was in the shower. Shit, there was a good chance he was still in the shower. And he wonders why Uncle Denis has me take care of the important stuff.

I called Vinnie instead. He was one of our most trusted employees. On the surface he was just a manager at The Saddle, the strip club my uncle owns on the Lower West Side. But, he did a lot more than that.

“Hello.”

“Vinnie, where’s Blaise?”

“Not sure.” I could hear weights slamming down in the background.

“You need to find Blaise. Make sure he’s calm. Then tell him to liquidate the two accounts in the Bahamas. He knows which name to use. He has to start on this before they freeze it. Also, tell him not to call Andy Schwartzman. The D.A. will expect him to represent us. But, we’ll be using…”

“Not Andy? He always…”

“Don’t ask fucking questions, Vin.” I swallowed hard and tried not to yell. Vinnie was about ten years older than me. I trusted him but our working relationship was strained sometimes. It was hard taking orders from a 22-year-old girl. “I don’t think you know how serious this is. Brice called me. The asshole called me to throw this in my face. And you know why he’s so happy? Because they have Mark.”

“Shit, they have Mark?”

“Just tell Blaise to get in touch with Sal. And tell Blaise to call me…later. And tell him not to make a big deal about meeting Sal. Discreet. Not like how he did the trucking deal” Then I had one more thought, “And make Blaise think all this was his idea.”

Vin laughed a little at that last one. “Take care, Styles. I got this. Don’t worry about it. Relax.”

“Yeah. Relax. Maybe next year.”

I didn’t realize it but there were two students walking about five or six feet behind me. Barking orders on a cell phone wasn’t exactly blending in. I looked over my shoulder, but they were deep in conversation about some party going on this weekend.

Just as my fingers started to turn white from the chilled air, I turned the corner and saw Darcy Hall. It was one of the older buildings on campus.  In the middle of the big city, CSU was a little piece of ivied academia, a little beacon of knowledge and wisdom or so it would seem. I liked being there—I didn’t have to worry about anything else but school. I wasn’t Styles Baptiste there.

When I got inside Darcy Hall, I peered into every classroom as I walked down the newly renovated hallway. Everything inside was brightly lit—in a nauseatingly radioactive way. As I walked past, I turned my head as far as it would go to see every bit of the classroom without having to halt my stroll to the elevator.

At the elevator—another deep breath. I looked at the floor in front of me and shifted my weight from side to side. Late, yet again, for the internship with Professor Barnes I fought so hard to get. Maybe I should stop pretending like I’m a college student and just work for my uncle full time. At least I’m good at that.

Chapter 2

Squad Cars

(COLETTE)

Okay, so that day—like the Thursday before Thanksgiving—really sucked. There’s no other word for it. It just plain sucked. My dad got arrested. Obviously, I couldn’t go to school. Who can sit through statistics with that shit on the news? And people would just be staring at me—like I was the freaking criminal or something.

But, I had a good plan. I was going to hang tight until Kylie called me. She’d know what to do.  You need a plan in situations like this. Believe me.

I was on Long Island early that morning with my mom. She was freaking out, of course. But by about ten thirty, I got back the apartment on the Upper West Side. It felt really weird knowing that just a few hours ago a bunch of cops had been swarming around the place. I felt kind of nauseous walking in the building.

My phone vibrated and almost fell right off the nightstand next to my bed.

“Hello?”

“Hey, beautiful.” It was Gabriel—a hottie that works for Kylie’s boyfriend (well, not boyfriend—I’ll get to that). “We’re going at 9. We got Lot 61. Do you and Styles want us to pick you up?”

“No, uhh, that’s okay…” I completely forgot to tell Kylie that I made plans with Thade and his boys. Plus, how was Thade going to pick anyone up? He drove a yellow Lamborghini.  I’ll get to that part too.

After I hung up the phone, I sat there wondering what to do with the rest of my day before Kylie called. I took a look in my closet and started thinking about Thade “Diablo” Beauvoir and his friends. What would be a good dress to wear? What does a guy who calls himself “Diablo” like in a girl’s outfit? It was a ridiculous name. Kylie made fun of it a few times in the beginning. He took us out one time and gave the waitress a two hundred dollar tip for one round of drinks. When I asked Kylie where Thade wanted to go next she said, “I don’t know. Ask the big tipper.” But I couldn’t hear her right and thought she said “the Big Dipper.” You know, like the star or constellation or whatever. So, I call him “Big Dipper” or just “The Dip” now. But Kylie gets mad if I say it too loud. I don’t think someone who calls himself “Diablo” would take kindly to my calling him “The Dip.” Not that The Dip would ever say anything to me. I mean, my dad is Denis Baptiste, Jr.

Plus Kylie can’t make fun of people’s nicknames too much. First, we live in the nightclub world—everyone has a nickname. Second, she has a nickname herself: Styles Baptiste. Kylie maintains that it’s not her fault she has a stupid nickname. It was all Mark’s idea. Back when they opened their club—they had this small place in Long Beach, a great summer hang out—Mark thought they could attract more people if she used my last name. And he was right. Styles Baptiste was cool and dangerous. Kylie Baines was too vanilla.

Anyway, Kylie doesn’t call Thade by his nickname or his real name. She doesn’t call him anything. She mostly avoids him now. We met him on Labor Day weekend in the Hamptons. Kylie was totally drunk (my fault for ordering like four rounds of SoCo and Lime). She was fawning over this yellow Lamborghini parked outside Oxygen, this trendy club in East Hampton.  It was parked right next to a hydrant. What an ass! She pointed at the car and yelled to me. Who needs to drive that kind of car? Must be compensating for something. Then she made me take her picture sprawled out on the hood. Totally wasted, I know.

Then, in full spread on the hood, bleep-bleep… The sound startled Kylie and she slid right off the freshly waxed paintjob. I laughed so hard I peed a little in my pants. What a friggin’ scene.

Then we saw who unlocked the car. Thade walked over to Kylie and helped her up. He made some lame comment about how she must want go for a ride. Kylie pushed her way past him, stumbling and still laughing as she came up to us.

As we walked down the street, Thade slowly followed us with the passenger window rolled down. He kept on until Kylie gave him her number. The very next day he was at my dad’s house for our Labor Day barbeque. Kylie’s face when my uncle introduced him was priceless. Priceless! I laughed so hard my margarita almost came through my nose. Then my dad shot me a look and I stopped.

Since then, they’ve been dating—kind of. More like a power couple in a loveless marriage. It’s kind of superficial, but it’s fun for me. Kylie doesn’t admit it, but she has fun sometimes too. How could you not be a little infatuated with someone like Diablo Beauvoir? He’s taken her out wherever she wants to go. Him and his entourage are always at our clubs—making us even more popular than we were before. He buys her tons of gifts. And he’s nice. I can’t really find much wrong with him. And it’s nice to see my cousin with someone who’s not a selfish, cheating dick.

“The Dip” might not be the love of her life but he’s so much better than Mark Esposito. You’ve got to hear this one too. You know what’s kind of funny about Kylie’s reaction to Mark’s cheating on her? She didn’t lose it when she found out about him and Stacey, this slut they hired to be a bartender. She lost it way later.

The club was all Mark’s idea—I mean, Kylie had just finished her freshmen year of college at the time and he was like 25.  She didn’t really know much about opening a club. But she was excited about it all the same—Mark Esposito could get you excited about anything, about a piece of dog poop even. He was the type of good-looking, charming, smart guy that could say, “Check out this piece of poop.” And despite yourself, you’d probably say, “That’s some freaking awesome poop. It’s such a unique color of poopy brown.” Plus, he had money—he dealt both special K and crystal meth all around clubs on Long Island and Queens. So, essentially, Mark was a really likable douchebag. Kylie probably knew that dating Mark was against her better judgment, but she didn’t care.

So, like I said, they opened this club—mostly with Mark’s money. My dad offered to help Kylie (I thought she was dumb not to take it) but Kylie didn’t want any Baptiste money. She didn’t want to owe Dad anything.

She worked her ass off that first summer. They barely broke even—but they made it. Kylie started working for my dad at the Loose Moose during the school year just to pay the rent in the off-season. But the next summer—the club blew up. (I mean it was very successful. It didn’t actually blow up.) Mark convinced Kylie to use my last name and change her first name for all club purposes. Once she became Styles Baptiste, everyone wanted to hang out with her. I mean everyone. She worked all summer again, this time at both places: the Moose and her own place.

They made so much money. One weekend Kylie told me that her bar brought in over forty thousand between Thursday and Sunday. The more money they made, the more Mark spent. The more Kylie worked, the less Mark worked. But Kylie was too busy to see it. We think now that Mark started seeing Stacey about halfway through that summer. And he started doing his own product. That’s totally against drug dealer business code by the way. You never do your own stuff. That’s how you get sloppy. That’s how you lose money. He kept on seeing Stacey too.

That brings us to last June. Kylie found out about Stacey then. Obviously, she freaked one night. She was mostly mad at Stacey who made the giant mistake of calling my cousin a bitch and saying that she deserved it. I mean what the fuck, right? Kylie was so enraged that my brother had to hold her back. Her arms and legs were flailing and he carried her away. She got loose and Blaise couldn’t get her back before she cracked Stacey in the nose. It was one of the best things I’ve ever seen. This girl who stole my cousin’s boyfriend, acted all two-faced for months, then talked smack about it, now stood there with blood gushing out of her face. Stacey yelled about how she was going to get her brother to come after Kylie. Blaise screamed back, “Yeah, you ain’t gonna do shit.” Then he turned to Vin and some other guys, “Get this bitch out of here.”

Mark had already wormed away though. I think he knew that Blaise might have kicked his ass if he stayed. From that night, the club was unofficially Kylie’s. On paper it was still Mark’s. But my family said Kylie owned it and Mark was out. That makes Kylie the owner—plain and simple.

She was hurt though. Kylie didn’t even want the club anymore. My dad sent in some people to help her. Blaise had the pleasurable duty of letting Mark know that he was no longer welcome. But Kylie begged him not to hurt Mark.

But that’s not all of it. Like I said, the Stacey beat down was my second favorite moment. Kylie threw this awesome birthday bash for me the following summer. And Mark had the balls to show up. Incidentally, my birthday is the same weekend as Mark’s. He freakin’ trotted in with Stacey, his brother Jeff, and a whole bunch of other Puerto Ricans in tow—like he’s there to take back his territory. I remember this shit like it was last week.

“Oh my God.” I said to Kylie. We were in the back lounge sipping on some vodka cocktails.

“Oh my God, what?”

“I can’t believe this dickhead.” Mark and his group came in like they owned the place. I looked back and Kylie was gone. She was already halfway to the bar. I grabbed Blaise. About five of us followed her. I kept jumping to see over people’s heads as we maneuvered through the dance floor. I saw Mark, but no Kylie.

Then I looked at the bar. Kylie walked around it, grabbed something, and started walking outside. She didn’t even acknowledge Mark. She looked calm even. I looked back at Mark and he yelled something to her. Then his face changed and he jumped over some booths to get to her. The rest of his group followed. I looked back at my cousin. She had a baseball bat in her hand.

Blaise ran outside with his friends and a few other bouncers. When I finally pushed my way through, I saw Blaise put is arm across Vin to stop him from reaching Kylie. I heard him say, almost sinisterly, “This is going to be fucking awesome” as I walked up.

I scoured the parking lot for Kylie, trying to figure out what “this” meant. Then I heard it. Glass shattering. She was busting all the windows on Mark’s Escalade.

“What the fuck? You fucking bitch!” I heard Mark scream from about thirty feet behind me. He ran up but Blaise turned and hit him. I had like two seconds to get out of the way before all the guys starting fighting. It was crazy. You know, punching doesn’t sound like the way it does in movies. It’s kind of blunt. Not glamorous or cool at all. It just sounds really disgusting.

The cops were there almost instantly. Someone on line outside must have called. The next thing I remember was Kylie and Blaise (and just about every guest at my birthday party but me) getting put in cop cars. There was a big crowd surrounding us. So many people but they hardly said anything.

It’s not everyday you see a brawl and a girl taking a baseball bat to the windows of an SUV. I saw Kylie stare at Stacey while the cops were cuffing her. Stacey yelled, “You stupid bitch!”

Kylie smiled real big and laughed at her. Stacey said, “You don’t have anything to say for yourself.” Kylie looked at her hands behind her back, “I do. You just can’t see my finger.”

As she got into the backseat of the squad car, she called out to Stacey, “How’s your nose?”

Chapter 3

Diet Coke, Anyone?

(BEN)

“Man, this elevator takes so damn long.” Taylor whined. This kid was always whining about something. Ever since high school. We had been waiting on the fifth floor of Darcy Hall for all of three minutes.

“You think that went well?” I said. I was preoccupied about the meeting I just had with the head of CSU’s English department. I really wanted to get into their MFA program for fiction writing.

“Ben, I think you’ll get in. Your dad’s Desmond Carrick. I’m surprised there isn’t a building named after him here. They should use some of that dinero to get new elevators.” Taylor laughed then he had some kind of epiphany, “Ben! Do you know who goes here? I just figured it out.”

“Who?”

“Man, where is this elevator? We could have taken the stairs like ten times.”

“Dude–FOCUS. Who?”

“Kylie Baines. Kylie Baines.” Taylor hit me in the arm then pushed the elevator button a few more times. “Kylie Bah—.”

“That won’t make it get here any faster.” After Taylor mentioned Kylie, his antics irritated me more than usual. This guy needed to calm down. Holy shit. She did go to CSU. One of my best friends and I didn’t even remember where she went to college. Well, best friends once upon a time.

I met Kylie back in high school—around the same time I met my fiancé. We went to school on Long Island. Not the same school though. I went to Chancellor High. All boys filled with raging hormones and no girls to interact with, no girls to help make us men. Mostly male teachers—assholes. Too tough on us if you ask me.

It was definitely one of those schools that you hated and resented while you were there, but when you left, it was a different story.  I proudly wear my class ring now. In fact, I got a great deal on a new Benz CLK just last week because of it.

The elevator door finally opened. Taylor jumped in and started pressing “Close Door” before I could even move.

“Yo, can I drive back?”

“Taylor, I got the car yesterday.”

“So? Help a guy out, Ben. Come on. My dad gets me a fucking pre-owned Lexus and you get a brand new Mercedes…for what?” The elevator stopped a few floors down to let some more people on, and Taylor’s shouting trailed off into a tense whisper, “For quitting school in England and coming here?”

“My dad probably paid the same amount for my Benz as your dad paid for your Lexus, or at least close.”

“Yeah, right.”

He didn’t believe me. In fact I’m not sure how much the car was. But Dad said he got a deal and I have Chancellor freaking High School to thank for it. I was lurking around one of the nicer cars in the Mercedes Benz showroom with my dad when the salesman eyed the Chancellor’s crest on the ring and asked what year I graduated. Turns out, he had a son that just graduated and a son that was going into his sophomore year.

We got to talking and he said how he loved the school because it was so disciplined and blah blah blah. He said he wished he lived on Long Island when he was growing up because he knew that his parents would have sent him to Chancellor and blah blah blah. Of course, Brooklyn had some good schools. He went to a great school. Had I heard of it? It’s getting closed down. Shame. So many good Catholic schools getting closed down. What a damn shame.

But, all my bullshitting with this salesman (and my class ring) paid off and soon enough I was getting a pretty sweet deal. I was thinking of maybe getting the car in navy blue. I always see CLKs in white or silver. The salesman looked at me and patted me on the back. He gave me that look of solidarity—that type of ethnic / religious / similar background solidarity (whatever you want to call it). I always find these looks amusing because I’m not a Catholic. I just went to the best all-boys school on Long Island. Chancellor just happened to be a Catholic school.

Let me clarify. My mother is Jewish and my father is Catholic. That explains my name. Benjamin Carrick.  I was brought up kind of Jewish with some Catholic thrown in. My mom tried to get us to follow all the Jewish traditions, but she gave up. Not that she was totally broken up about it. No one could ever accuse Mara Carrick of being a devout Jew. I just think that neither she nor my dad wanted to bend on the religion thing. Yet, I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mom go to temple by herself or my dad go to mass (you know, other than Christmas or Easter).  My dad is one of those “microwave” Catholics. You know what I mean.

Still, I get gifts on Christmas and Hanukah, so that means I get the best of both worlds, right? I definitely like the Catholic holidays better—anyone who has sat through a Seder at my grandmother’s house would probably feel the same.  I really don’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God though. Seems like he was a cool enough guy to make me want to celebrate his birthday. I don’t know. So, I don’t think about it.

Okay, now I’m getting tangential—as Siobhan would say. That’s a good word. Tangential. “Use it three times and it’s yours!” I can hear her voice in my head right now. My fiancé is trying to help me increase my vocabulary so I subscribe to this website that sends me a new word every day. Today was “juggernaut” (by the way, when the hell would you use juggernaut?) The day before yesterday was “tangential.” I don’t even remember yesterday’s word.

“Dude, I swear if you go to school here, you should plan an extra hour just for the elevator to make sure you get to class on time.” Taylor broke in again. He kept lifting his heels, popping up and down.

“And you care that I get to class on time?”

The elevator doors opened on the first floor. I had just forgotten that Kylie Baines goes to school here too and there she was. When I saw her, I was stunned for a moment. A little scared even. But then I remembered it wasn’t me she hated. And it wasn’t Taylor either. I was pretty happy just then that my fiancé’s brother Matt wasn’t standing with us. That would have been awkward. What do you say to someone who used to be one of your best friends? Especially with the way Matt broke things off.

Immediately I thought of the first time I met Kylie. We were at a dance my freshmen year of high school at Chancellor. My friends were the biggest dorks. I remember my tie had Sylvester and Tweety on it. We were required to wear khakis or suit pants, loafers, and a man-tailored shirt to all school functions. But to the dances, we didn’t have to wear the school tie or any tie for that matter. My mom insisted that I wear one though. She hated the way man-tailored shirts looked without a tie. So, I insisted that the tie be my Looney Tunes one—an even trade I think.

I was pretty nervous. I mean, I had met Siobhan before but she looked incredible that night. And Kylie looked great too. Kylie always looked older than all of us. She could have passed for a junior or a senior. And we were all dorky freshmen. When I started realizing that I would have to talk to these girls, I got all sweaty. I definitely remember thinking how the night probably would have been better if I sat home and played video games with my younger brother Adam.

Kylie and Siobhan spent most of the night hanging out with Bret Dillon. Bret was a freshman like us but he was built like he was in college. So my chances of getting with Siobhan were crappy.

The one time I did get to talk to Siobhan all I could muster up the confidence to say was, “Too bad they don’t have Diet Coke, right?” We were standing at a card table covered with a plastic tablecloth and Dixie cups full of sodas. I can’t believe that’s the most suave thing I could think of to say.

“Too bad they don’t have Diet Coke, right?”

“Yeah, too bad.” Siobhan made a face at Kylie like, Oh don’t mind my brother’s idiot friend, Ben.  He’s slightly retarded. Then she looked back at me like, When are you going away? After a pause, she just said “Yeah, I guess I’ll have to drink full-calorie soda tonight.” Then she went over to another group of kids.

What was she supposed to say to that? Furthermore, what was I suggesting? All girls obviously drink Diet Coke? Clearly, she would want Diet Coke because she needs to lose a few (which she didn’t). Even today, Siobhan is one of the skinniest girls I know. I swear if my fiancé turns sideways, she might disappear.

“You drink Diet Coke too?” Kylie smiled, willing to chat for a moment with the kid in the Looney Tunes tie.

“Yeah, it’s all my mom ever buys. I never really had Coke so now it just tastes too sweet. I think my mom put it in my bottle as a baby” I’m embarrassed right now as I retell this. What an ass I was. But Kylie played along. She totally saved me.

“Me too. That’s so funny. My mom never buys anything but Crystal Light and Diet Coke. You know…other than milk and orange juice and stuff.”

Was her mother a rich Jewish woman who only wears track suits and spends most of her day doing aerobics videos? I couldn’t tell at that point. The conversation didn’t go much further.

Siobhan came back over to rescue her friend. “So are you having fun, Ben?” Siobhan asked. Maybe after Kylie and I talked, she was more comfortable. Or she just realized she wouldn’t look uncool if she were polite to me.

“Uh, well, I guess,” I rolled my eyes. I totally blew it.  I tried to feign indifference about the situation, the dance, the lack of Diet Coke, her, but she caught on. Siobhan walked away, back to the herd of OLV girls.

“Okay, so maybe I’ll see you later. Good luck with the soda, Ben.” Kylie looked back at Siobhan then smiled back at me.

I had nothing. I wanted to step back about three minutes and rethink that roll of the eyes. I learned that night that pretending not to be interested in someone you really are interested in never works out. When you like someone, you have to just go for it.

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