Abomination (Chapters 1-3)


i: flashlight symphony

Anna Walters
16, Parkland High School

Lights dance through the trees outside my window, looking for all the world like the woods have been invaded by aliens. I can see the beams wind through the leaves in arcs, gliding playfully here and there, crossing through each other as they slip silently in the darkness. I know, of course, that there are no aliens here. There’s no sound either, except what there usually is on these nights: the distant babbling of the creek, the occasional call of a night bird, the passing buzz of an insect, the background music of chirping crickets. There seem to be lots of crickets tonight. I watch as the lights tango past the tree line into my yard and find their way to their target: my open window.
As usual, I’m not sleeping. I’m standing here, waiting for those twirling lights, my signal from Jonathan to come out into the woods. Almost silently, I grab my flashlight, slip outside of my bedroom, creep slowly down the hall past my parents’ closed door and down the carpeted stairway. It’s still chilly outside in the early spring, so I wrap a coat around myself before leaving through the garage as always, closing the door as gently as possible.  I think my mom knows we do this, but I don’t want any confrontations with my dad. And I sure don’t want any with Jared. I know how he feels about Jonathan.
Jonathan isn’t in my yard. He’s waiting where he always waits, down the path behind my house at the big rock in the woods near Gilmer’s Creek. He sits on the boulder, his two flashlights pointed at the ground in the little clearing, spinning ovals of light slowly on the forest floor. When I see them, I stop and look up at him, and then add my own beam to the whirling white spots, the three flashlights harmonizing as they dance over matted leaves. It makes us both laugh; it always does, this wordless greeting we repeat each time we meet out here, a bit of silliness, like a secret handshake or a code of some kind, something leftover from childhood recess games.
  “Hi,” I say.
  “Hi,” he answers. “It took you longer to wake up tonight.”
I climb the face of the rock, carefully in the dark, hands and feet instinctively knowing where the holds are. “No,” I say,” I wasn’t asleep. I was just reading and I wanted to finish the chapter.”
I can see his face more clearly now, a small disappointment in his eyes.
  “Must have been a good book,” he says.
“Don’t be silly, Jonathan. I came out, didn’t I?”
  He watches me as I crest the boulder. He can be so moody sometimes. For a moment, he doesn’t respond, but then he smiles gently. “I know. I’m sorry. I just missed you today is all.”
  “You know I had that SAT class after the soccer game,” I say, settling next to him on the rock’s summit.
  He shines one of his lights on my face and watches my eyes. He’s told me how he likes the way they sparkle in the beam. I brush my hair away from my face as I watch him watching me. His gaze is different tonight, and I recognize it. I’ve seen this look so many times, this lost, puzzled look, so strange in its complexity. Most of the time it’s when he thinks I’m not looking. I’ll be walking along with him and catch him with a sideways glance, and there it is: like he’s not looking so much at me as into me, as if he’s seeking something there, but I don’t know what he’s looking for. I’ve spent many nights trying to figure out that look, and now, in the silence of the middle of the night, something about it seems very sad.
  “Are you all right, Jonathan?” I ask.
  “Yeah, fine,” he says, and immediately the look changes to a smile. “Just thinking is all.”
  “About what?”
  “Mostly about school. I don’t know how I’m going to pass that history final. I missed a whole week when I was sick.”
  I touch his arm, returning his smile. “You’ll be fine. You know I’ll help in any way I can, and anyway you’ve always been good in history. Besides,” I add, “you’ve been back in school almost a month. You must have caught up by now.”
An owl sings softly into the night. Jonathan’s face is brighter now and I know that whatever has been on his mind is gone. “Yeah, I guess I’ll be OK. Halloway has just been on my case a bit.” His laugh is almost a sneer. “As if it was my fault I had mono.”
  My hand wills itself into his and my head drops into the crease of his shoulder, contrite, embarrassed.
“No,” I say softly, “it was mine.”
“Stop that,” he says, his voice pointed but gentle. “I’m tired of hearing that. You didn’t even know you had it that night at the dance. It’s not your fault.” I try to argue, but his finger on my lips cuts me off.
  “No more, OK?”
  Gently, he cups my chin with his hand to bring my lips toward his. I turn my face toward him again, our eyes locking, breath almost synchronized. I can see the condensation as we exhale, the air mingling, joining, melding, not like the light of the flashlight greeting, joined but still distinct, but something deeper, as if the simple act of breathing is something sensuous and powerful that bonds us, and I know that I will do anything for this boy. For a moment we stay there, inches apart, motionless as I wait for whatever will happen. In his eyes I think I can read, just for a moment, a mixture of passion and confusion, as if he’s telling himself what he ought to do. Then he pulls my lips toward his and they touch gingerly, as if he’s afraid that I’m fragile, or maybe, I suddenly think, as if he is.

ii. ice cream and mayflies

Kristen Gelinas
14, Carter Middle School

Sometimes it seems in Parkland that winter won’t ever end. I mean it: there are some years when we have snow on the ground all the way through what the rest of the world calls spring. Little buds of flowers try to peep out from all of the white but they don’t get very far. Then it all finally melts away, leaving huge puddles and overflowing rivers and a whole lot of mud. Brian always used to love the mud, except when Mom would yell at him for tracking it all over the house. Rachel, too, still manages to collect more than her share of black guck on her shoes and clothes. I have always hated it. I’m not a neat freak or anything--just look at my room--but I hate it when I get all filthy, caked with God knows what, my shoes just a mold for mud pies.
So my reaction to the melting of the winter?  I stay inside, just as I do for the winter itself. With the exception of a couple of solo midwinter excursions out to the rock we call the Deer Leap—just because it’s really quiet and pretty in the snow—I avoid the spring until it becomes summer. In Parkland, that doesn’t usually take very long. Summer generally pops up after only a week or so of what passes for spring: trees bud overnight and flowers that have been stuck underground much longer than they should be bloom in a day and then a week later the grass is green and the leaves are out and the temperatures have somehow climbed into the seventies and I know that it’s time to leave my room and go out into the world.
  Anyway, usually I am just coming out of hibernation about the second week of May, long after everyone else is out playing baseball or flying kites or whatever it is they do. I read a lot or write in one of my dozen or so journals or talk on the phone or wait for Anna or Taryn to come over or listen to whoever I happen to like listening to at the moment on my iPod, which Mom is always policing to make sure she approves the bands. Right. I’ll bet Grandma loved the Stones or the Who and the others she listened to when she was a teenager. I’ve seen the youtube video of that old “Ed Sullivan Show” where they had to edit Elvis at the waist just because he danced all “sexy.” (And how the heck did my mom and dad ever get born if that’s what sexy was in those days?) But forget old TV shows. Jeez, I’ve seen her record collection     She’s got them all still, even though we don’t own a record player and I don’t think I’ve ever even seen one. But those old vinyl records in the basement sit on dust-covered shelves anyway, and I recognize some of them, like Alice Cooper because my dad made me watch Wayne’s World with him (which was, I’ll admit, sort of hilarious). Most of them, though, are a mystery to me. There have been afternoons in the late winter when I have spent hours reading the covers and looking at the art, trying to hear the songs in my head, trying to imagine what a band that calls itself the Flying Burrito Brothers could sound like. In my mind I hear something from a Taco Bell commercial. I could look them up on youtube, but honestly it doesn’t seem worth the time. Besides, it’s more fun to imagine it.
This spring, though, has not been a normal Parkland spring. For one thing, we didn’t have a whole lot of snow, so the brightly colored crocuses and daffodils came up early. And the temperature actually grew warmer gradually, the way I understand it does each year in some more normal places. March and April grew warmer with each week, and by Easter we were pretty much always in the 60’s, and the trees were budding and the winds were warm and Taryn had dragged me out of my room weeks earlier to prove that there was no mud in the bike path by the river. Even the little ice cream store, Dino’s, opened early, and it usually didn’t take down its shutters until Memorial Day. There’s something else, though, that makes this spring different, although I guess that difference is mostly inside of my head. I’m thirteen years old, almost fourteen, getting ready to graduate eighth grade, and I’m in love. The boy is older than me, just past sixteen, but that doesn’t matter because I know he’ll never be mine anyway: he’s going out with Anna.
I don’t know what makes us fall in love, but if you ask me what I see in Jonathan, I’d say that it’s something wonderfully beautiful about him, something I can’t put my fingers on but know in my heart is unique. He’s not at all like any of the other boys, though I suppose he doesn’t look all that unusual. Jonathan isn’t tall for a boy, about my height actually, not too muscular or too skinny, certainly not fat. His hair, though longer than the style, suits him, and he dresses in much the same manner as all of the other boys, which is to say he and my brother have about the same wardrobe. Brian always wears one of about five tee shirts or sweat shirts to school over what I really think is the same pair of jeans every single day. He looks ratty, but that’s what all the boys look like, and Jonathan looks about the same. Anyway, you happen on him in the school yard you might not even notice him. He’s just another 10th grade boy. But there’s something else, something I notice and maybe Anna, but I think nobody else does. He picks flowers from the fields every day as he walks home. He sings to himself, his voice sweet and still high, the songs beautiful and romantic, when he thinks no one can hear. I sometimes linger, out of sight but near enough, just to listen to him. Taryn says it’s stalking, and she may be right I guess, but his voice, even though it’s so quiet, has a kind of mesmerizing effect: I just get lost in it.
  Jonathan also stops to stare at birds and rabbits and even frogs near the path, and you can just tell that the smile mysteriously poised on his lips isn’t stuffed with the kinds of thoughts that junior high boys have, of blowing them up with fireworks or wondering what they’d look like squashed by a car. And then there have been times when I happened upon him down on the bike path that I knew, without ever mentioning it, that he had been crying, alone and in silence.
Perhaps it’s his eyes as much as anything, though, that make me love him. He has these soft blue eyes, set above high cheek bones, intense, deep eyes that seem to see a lot more than anyone else’s. Jonathan’s eyes make you feel that he can see into you, that he cares about you and whatever is wrong in your world. If you’re hurting, he can make you feel better just by gazing at you and listening. And that’s exactly how I got to know him. It sounds stupid, I guess, but Taryn and I had gotten into one of our rare fights. I don’t even remember what it was about, really, but it dragged on for days and there finally came a moment when she said she didn’t ever want to talk to me again and stormed away. I don’t know how long I stood in my yard crying or why he was there or how long he’d been there watching. I only became aware of him when he put his arms around me gently and asked if I was OK. We ended up talking on my porch swing for the whole afternoon, and I remember that he seemed to be truly interested, truly understanding. And those healing eyes of his looked at me, and his arms held me, and I began to believe that things could be OK.
Of course Taryn and I patched things up, and of course I knew from the beginning that I could never even tell Jonathan how I felt, but I did feel something special. And when I could, I spent more and more time with him and Anna, not even caring if I was a third wheel. The summer before, after seventh grade, I had started dividing my time between them and Taryn, for the first time in my life not spending most of my days alone. With Taryn I wandered the woods seeking treasures, or went to movies or rode bikes on the path out through the forest. Or she showed me stuff she’d created on the computer.
Taryn is some kind of computer wizard. While other kids (like me) spent our screen time with Facebook and gaming and knew only basics about whatever programs we needed for school, like Word or PowerPoint, Taryn somehow learned how to write her own programs. She’s pretty good, and she’s only fourteen, a girl who wears the name “Geek” with pride. There’s one she made that I find especially useful. She calls it “Lifesaver,” and it really is. You use a microphone to record any sound you want and then, as long as you leave the mic open, that sound automatically triggers the computer to change whatever is onscreen. So for example, if I recorded the sound of my door opening, then whenever it opened the computer would instantly switch to, say, my homework. Useful when you don’t want parents (or worse, snoopy little sisters) to know what you’re doing. Once she tried to teach me how to write code, but it was like a foreign language. I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t know Taryn, the words “writing code” would probably mean something you do with your diary so no one could read it but you.
Anyway that’s what I did with Taryn that summer. With Anna and Jonathan I learned to play hearts, went swimming at Bell Island beach, or let Jonathan take us all out for ice cream. There is no pleasure greater in Parkland than going to Dino’s for a flavor of the day with white chocolate sprinkles. (In fact it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that there are no other pleasures in Parkland at all. We don’t even have a McDonald’s for crying out loud. Seriously: we have to drive ten miles to Wentworth to find one. It’s practically a field trip to get a Big Mac!)  And being able to talk to Jonathan and Anna, while fantasizing about Jonathan and me, made it all so much sweeter.
During the school year, we didn’t hang out quite as much. Occasional card games or movies on weekends, getting together during breaks, but it was eighth grade and school was keeping me busy. And Anna and Jonathan seemed pretty busy too as sophomores. Anna told me that the workload had tripled for her in sophomore year, and making varsity soccer as a sophomore hadn’t exactly helped her to find extra time. But somehow we’re getting through it all, and it’s almost over.
With the warm weather comes our annual Rite of Spring: the first trip to Dino’s. This year, the first evening run is in May, before school lets out and the really hot months arrive. Jonathan is celebrating his new driver’s license by taking us all out for sundaes. It’s a beautiful evening in the middle of the month, and the stars have just started to come out. The blue bug zapper is crackling as its humming light attracts the mayflies that otherwise would become unwelcome toppings on our sundaes.
  “Did you know that mayflies only live a single day?” asks Jonathan as he spoons some hot fudge into his mouth. He eats carefully, not at all like Jared, or even Brian, both of whom shovel such large amounts of food into their mouths that a sundae—even a Dino’s sundae—probably wouldn’t last five bites.
  “Really?” Anna asks. “Like fruit flies?”
  He nods.
“But they’re so big,” she says. “It doesn’t seem possible.”
Jonathan watches the zapper do its thing and continues taking small, measured bites of his sundae. “They’re big, but fragile. Look at them: you can see right through them.”
  We all watch the mayflies swarming, swirling beneath the street light, their lacy wings glowing almost supernaturally as they whisk in and out of the brightness. They move clumsily, it seems to me, but they do have a kind of beauty with those huge wings. I think of my own awkward, gangly, too-tall body, just as clumsy but no pretty wings to make a difference. My most noticeable feature is my bright red hair, and I’d like to hack it off with a machete. What I wouldn’t give for lacy wings. The bugs twist and turn in a kind of dance, and it’s easy to see why Jonathan is so fascinated. If I slip my head a little to one side I can see him, his face a puzzle, his eyes intent, a tiny smile on his lips.
  “Nope,” he says, “they just have a brief life. They need to make the most of it while they’re here.”
  He looks at me. “Do you know what they do with their short time on earth?” he asks.
  I shake my head.
  “They enjoy life’s pleasures. They don’t waste time doing what we do for twenty years, trying to figure ourselves out. They don’t have twenty years—they have a day. They spend it mating.”
He watches me, looking for a reaction, and then he smiles, tosses his empty sundae cup into the trash, takes Anna’s hand, and leads us all back to the car.

iii. fine young men

Coach Steve Edmunds
Football Coach, Parkland High School

  From the sidelines beneath the stands, I can see them but they can’t see me. Not yet anyway. They shouldn’t be here, but I’ll give them a few minutes. Didn’t expect to find them here. Interesting to watch.
They’re just fooling around, looks like. Playing catch, having fun. Kids. And these two: these young men are two of the best. God, where would we have been last year without them? Where would we be this year.
So, how would we map out this play?
  Jared, playing QB for some bizarre reason, throws to Harlow deep in the end zone. Well, that worked.
  “Yes!” Jared hollers across the field. “I should be playing quarterback!”
I’m thinking Bill will have something to say about that, and…yes, there we go: Jesus! Kid must’ve been pumping more than I saw at school. The ball got there before he threw it!
“I don’t think so, Dude! That’s my job. Stick to D: you’ll be All-American where you are.”
  Probably enough, I’d say. Stepping out of the shadows, I call across the field to my captains.
  “You guys shouldn’t be out here.”
  “Sorry, Coach,” Jared calls. “We were just getting in some practice.
  I shake my head. “You’re just screwing around. That’s a good way to twist an ankle.”
  “Sorry,” both of them call this time, and they head toward me so they can go off together.
God, those two. Peas in a pod, but what great players! They’ve come so far in just a couple of years.
  When they got here in the fall of their sophomore years, they were so full of themselves that I thought they’d never be able to become team players. Too much success too early: junior high stars who came into the high school highly touted and lived up to their billings, leading the freshman team to its best season in years. But Christ they were cocky. I mean they fully expected to walk onto the varsity team in starting roles in the fall.
  In August, as the two-a-days started, I had to watch the way they interacted with the upperclassmen. Didn’t take long to know I had a problem on my hands. The seniors especially resented Bill and Jared, and it didn’t help that the younger boys not only believed themselves to be better than anyone else, but actually were. I mean Jared was already bigger and stronger than most of the senior boys, and I couldn’t even remember when I had last seen a quarterback who could throw with Harlow’s accuracy. But they had to come down a notch or two or seven if they ever were going to fulfill their potential, and my co-captains agreed.
  “It’s a tough call, Coach,” Armand Boucher told me. “Harlow’s got the arm, but Dickinson has been on the team two years and worked hard. And the way Harlow and Walters strut around like they own the place hasn’t won them any points.”
When I asked my defensive captain, Mike Darius, a second year starting tackle and one of the top ten students in the school, he gave it to me straight.
“Coach, Jared is a great player. So is Bill. And they may lead this team to a serious shot to be state champs.”
I saw Armand holding his breath, waiting for Mike to finish, ready to pounce, but Mike didn’t give him the chance.
  “But not this year,” he said, and Armand relaxed and breathed more easily. “If they play varsity, they have to start, and if they start, it would tear us apart.”
  Armand joined in. “Besides, Coach, they should be with the other sophomores. Think of how good that team could be in a couple of years.”
  I just looked at my team leaders. “You know that they are probably better than Dickinson and Martino.” The boys nodded. “And you might go further this season if you have them on board.”
  Mike’s face was firm. “I know, Coach. But we’re a good team. We were last year and we will be again. Maybe not state quality, but we could win conference. I’ve been listening to the guys, and I really think we’ll have a mutiny if the sophomores start.”
  “Thanks, guys,” I told them. “That’s just about what my own observations told me. I just wanted to hear it from you.”
  When the team rosters were announced, the names of Bill Harlow and Jared Walters were listed as starters, but for the junior varsity. They were on the call-up list as back-ups for varsity, which meant they’d see a lot of lower level action but practice as much as possible with the older boys. I watched as the seniors read the notice and patted each other on the back, but I also saw the sideways glances at the sophomores who sat, together but apart from everyone else, heads hanging so low they didn’t even see me approach.
  “You want to know why, right?” I asked them quietly. Jared looked up, wiping his damp eyes with the side of his hand.
  “Yes,” he said, his voice quivering.
I felt sorry for them. I mean they were the best; I was sure of that. But sometimes that isn’t enough.
  “You boys are both going to be great one day. Maybe next year. Maybe even later this year. You have the physical stuff that great players are made of.”
  The two boys listened, intently, not even trying to interject a word.
  “What you don’t have is the mental maturity to go along with your physical maturity. It’s not really your fault,” I continued, anticipating an interruption. “You’re young. I don’t really expect that of sophomores. But I don’t usually play them on varsity either. You know that if I play you varsity, I pretty much have to start you. What would be the point in having two players with your potential sitting and watching?  Better for you to play. But I’ve been watching both of you, and this is what I’ve seen for two weeks: you are very strong players, but you are far too arrogant. You don’t work with the team; you work for yourselves. And I can’t have that. A quarterback and a linebacker have to be team leaders. You may be talented, but you aren’t ready to lead. Not on varsity.”
  Neither of the boys bothered to hide the fact that he was crying.
  “Play with the kids your age, boys, the kids you’ll be working with for the next three years. Learn to lead. Learn that talent gets you on the field, but leadership gets you respect.” I paused. “OK?”
Jared and Bill stood up and looked at me, and for a moment, I was afraid that I had misjudged them, that this would break their spirit. I was afraid they might quit. But the two just stood there, looking at me. And finally it was Bill who spoke.
“I’ll make you proud of me, Coach.”
  Jared nodded his head in agreement. I breathed a sigh of relief. Another bullet dodged. I smiled. “Good for you. And I want you practicing with varsity once your practice ends for the day. Got it?”
  That was almost two years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday. I’ve since watched as these kids not only matured but blossomed. Both saw varsity action late in their sophomore years, filling in for injured players on a team that lost the conference championship in the last game of the season. But then, when they were juniors, on a team with only three senior starters, everything came together. After an early season loss, we never trailed again, scoring first in every game and winning five of our last six by over two touchdowns. The much-anticipated championship game against Timberlake was over by half-time. Parkland won 44-7. And we finally had that giant state championship trophy for the trophy case.
  As Jared and Bill pass, coming off of the field, I just smile, slap Bill on the back and say, “They have to work on the grass this summer. You guys can’t be out here until practice starts in August.”
  Bill turns his head without slowing his stride. “No problem, Coach.”
I keep smiling as they turn the corner out of sight. Even if the Harlow boy’s parents and their hyper-evangelism sometimes proves a bit difficult to take—the prayer dinner they insisted on having for the entire team the night before the Timberlake game comes to mind, a potential legal mine field that we somehow navigated successfully with the help of the administration—these boys are worth the trouble. God, I am so happy to have the opportunity to help to mold such fine, upstanding young men.

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