Red Lake

Where to start.

I suppose at the beginning, huh, Mrs. Lucas? Well, I guess my beginning is the end of last year, the start of summer.

I hate school. I’m sorry, Mrs. Lucas, but I’m just not a school kid. I’m not super smart and I’m not good at studying and I suck at math. School’s always been hard for me, but I’m not dumb. I just learn better outside the classroom, I suppose.

So, anyways. Last year ended normal. It was super hot outside. It’s always super hot outside here, huh? Well, at least for most of the year. Everybody was pissy. When the air stops moving, everybody gets that way. Hot and stifled and pissy.

So when school got out, the mood kind of changed. Kids were happy again, at least for a little bit. Me? I hate the summer. As much as I don’t want to get up and go to school in the morning, I’d so much rather do that than get up and spend all day at home. I hate it at home.

I’ve got a lot of hate, Mrs. Lucas. You probably can’t tell, because I don’t talk much and I don’t react like some hotheads, but there’s a lot of things in this world I could do without. School, summer, home, my dad. But I guess where we live, that’s not so uncommon, huh?

I live on a farm, sort of, out past the highway on Neave Road. You’ve probably never been there. It’s a good ways out of town. It’s me, my brother, my dad, my step-mother and all her kids. And the house isn’t that big. Especially when you just want to be alone. There’s nowhere to go on Neave Road to be alone. You’d think, with all that farmland, a kid could just disappear. But it’s a lot harder than you’d think.

Like I said, I live on a farm. So there’s always a load of work to get done. I’m a farm kid, born and raised, and I’ve never minded much the getting up super early in the morning and sweating my balls off all day. If I could just be out there alone, I wouldn’t hate summer so much. But the thing is, I can’t be alone. There’s always this presence, this shadow, overseeing everything I do out there, picking at me or yelling at me or telling me I’m not worth shit because I forgot to shut the back pasture gate one time six years ago.

My dad’s a nutcase. He’s insane, seriously. He’s only about forty. My parents got married real young, but it didn’t last long. My little brother was a last ditch effort on my mom’s part, but it didn’t work. Obviously. And my step-mother’s not much better than my dad. She’s crazy. She’s fat and mean and ugly. But she does what my dad wants, so she gets to stay.

My dad’s got sort of this problem where he tears people down. He just starts getting into you and there’s no stopping him. He has this way of making you feel like you’re nothing. Like you’re less than nothing, and you will never be worth it to anybody, you’re just some sort of nuisance God put on this earth to torment him, except he probably doesn’t even know what that word means, nuisance, or torment, or God. He’s real good at it. Sometimes, he’s so especially good that I believe him for a little while, a few hours or a few days. I’ve learned not to talk to him, because no matter what I say, I’m going to be wrong or say something stupid or ignorant or whatever word he chooses that day. And I guess that fear of just being torn down so many times makes a kid think before he says anything, so I just don’t talk much at all, to anyone.

Except Josie. I met Josie way back in the fourth grade, right before Beau, my little brother, was born, when my dad first started getting real bad. Josie only lives about eight minutes away if you cut through the fields instead of following the roads, so the Bennetts’ house was my safe zone, not that their house is much to look at. But Josie had parents who cooked for him and who sat down and talked to him about what he wanted to talk about and who read him books at night and took him to see movies downtown when they could afford it. So I was jealous, and I stayed there as much as I could. Josie’s got a way of talking to me that makes me talk back. He’s the only person in the world I’d ever actually want to carry on a conversation with.

My mom’s alright. She’s nice, I suppose. But she’s got an alcohol problem, so she’s not around much. She lives in Summer Commons, that trailer park behind the railroad. Me and Beau go stay with her once or twice a month, but she’s not real reliable. She’s a doormat. Lets anyone run right over her. And then she cries herself to sleep and cuddles Beau in next to her and makes him tell her he loves her a thousand times.

But back to the story.

The day after the last day of school, I went to a party with Josie. I don’t go out much. My dad won’t let me, and plus, I feel bad leaving Beau there all alone. I swear we’re the only sane people in that family. My step-mom’s kids are just as whacked as their mother. But that night, I remember I got so pissed off at my dad. I don’t remember why, but he was getting on me and I couldn’t do a damn thing about it, but I was about to explode. Like I said, it was hot and everyone was pissy. So I left. Josie had been talking about this party for, like, a week, so I headed out to Lila’s with him. Lila Jacobson. You know her, Mrs. Lucas? I’m pretty sure she has you for English.

Lila’s got this great place out on Red Lake. It’s beautiful. A huge white farm house and miles and miles of corn and wheat. And then there’s the lake itself. It’s surrounded by these huge trees and Lila and her brothers have tied giant rope swings from them, all the way up so you have to climb the whole tree just to get to them. The lake itself is this beautiful shade of blue and green, not red like you’d think. It’s pretty big. I think there are at least three or four other properties that back up to it. But the Jacobsons have got the best lot.

Lila throws a lot of parties. She’s a pretty girl, I’m sure you’d agree, so she’s pretty popular. Guys like her. Girls like her, too, because she’s real nice. And her parents let her throw parties. With beer. That always helps, I guess.

I’m not a big drinker. I hate being drunk, feeling that out of control. It makes me panic and freak out because I don’t know what I’ll say or do. So I don’t drink much.

Josie and I got to Lila’s at about nine. The place was loud. You could hear it all the way up on Sprayer Street, which is a good ways away. Lila’s brothers installed these neat lights that make the whole place look like Christmas all the time, so it looks real cool when you first drive up.

Within about a half hour, Josie was hammered. He does that a lot. He doesn’t have a lot going for him. He’s real poor, so he probably won’t be able to go to college, even community college. He’s not good at school anyways, and he’s always barely passing his classes. His parents are already getting old and they’ve got a ton of bills that he’s already started to help pay, so he’s stressed out all the time.

Mostly, when I go to parties, it’s because somebody’s got to be there to make sure Josie makes it through the night alive. So I help him out when I can, because I figure I owe him for letting me borrow his parents every now and then.

I don’t have a lot of friends. Mostly it’s just Josie and a couple farm boys we hang out with. Sure, lots of people know who I am and talk to me every now and then, but I think it’s just because I’m friends with Josie. Josie’s kind of like Lila. Everybody loves him.

So I was sitting at Lila’s, watching all the kids fling themselves into the pond. I was back by the house, sitting on the steps and barely nursing a beer. That was the first night I met Katrina. Well, I didn’t know she was Katrina. Not yet. I spotted her standing by the kegs. She looked bored, real bored, like this whole damn town was way too backwards for her. I’d never seen her before so I figured she must be new. The town’s not that big.

Katrina’s one of those girls who is almost too attractive. She’s real pretty, Mrs. Lucas. She’s got these crazy green eyes that are super sexy when she wants them to be. But the best part about Katrina is her hair. It’s long, but not too long where it’s everywhere and she wore it wavy like she just rolled out of bed. All I wanted was to pull Katrina’s hair, to grab onto it and never let go.

You would probably say I’m a shy guy, but it’s not that I’m shy; it’s just that I don’t talk much, like I said. So it’s pretty unusual for me to walk up to somebody, but I had to meet Katrina. So I drank the rest of my beer real fast and walked over to her, pretending to want another drink. She stood there, seeing through me. So I said hey. She looked at me like I was the next tool she was going to have to tell to go jerk off, but I didn’t leave. I just took a sip and looked at her. She gave me a once over, and I remember thinking how stupid I must have looked to her. I was wearing an old white t-shirt, a pair of worn out Levi’s, my work boots and a baseball cap that was so faded I didn’t even know what it said anymore. Finally, finally, she said hey back. I introduced myself so she did, too. Katrina Bailey from South Carolina. I asked her what in the world she was doing here. She shrugged.

We talked. Somehow. I’m not really sure what I said, and I know I didn’t say a lot, but it was enough. She stopped glaring at me and started talking to me like I was a human. Once she got comfortable, I let her carry on the conversation and she didn’t seem to mind. She told me once, later, that she liked that about me. That she didn’t have to worry about letting me talk and listening to what I had to say. She could say all she wanted, and every conversation could be about her.

We eventually moved back to the steps, and I pointed Josie out to her. We watched him fool around for a little while, but the night ended and I said goodbye and she sort of smiled fakely.

I think she thought she’d never see me again. I don’t think she realized how small this place is. You can’t get away from anything, or anyone.

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