Bette on It: Weird Adolescence. 8th Grade. An Excerpt...
Bette followed the crowd of kids inside and saw Tylor and Greyson first in the hallway outside the gym. Tylor was dressed as a werewolf and Greyson was dressed as Batman. "Hey guys. You look great!"
"Frnks." Tylor took out his fake fangs. "Thanks. We just got here."
"So you haven't seen anyone else yet?"
"Nope." said Greyson dryly, popping his 'p.'
"Wait. Greyson. Dick Greyson. Why didn't you dress as Robin?" Bette asked.
"See, I fucking told you this was going to happen! We've been here 30 seconds and it took a girl to do it. You're screwed. You are so screwed." said Tylor looking over at his cousin and pointing.
Greyson took a deep breath and exhaled with a blank look on his face. "Whatever. I'm gonna get some popcorn." And he walked away.
"Should I have not said that?" Bette cringed.
"No. You were just the first here. I warned him. My dad mentioned it. His brother said..."
Who Was Greyson's brother?
Bette and Greyson both had Mr. Harris for history and were working on the 20th century American history project. The tri-fold display project was large, and almost overwhelming to Bette. History was by far her worst subject. She couldn't focus on it. She wasn't sure if it was because Mr. Harris made it boring or if he showed movies two or three days a week. Then there was the fact that their big final project was half art, and she was a terrible artist. Her father John made history so much more interesting than any teacher ever did. Greyson and Bette had selected similar subjects for their projects. She had chosen to do her project on Amelia Earhart. Greyson did his on the Wright Brothers. They were in the same class. They discovered when they were in the library for the allotted classroom time that some of the books they needed for research overlapped and they checked them out. They could work together on some of the overlapping parts of the project and at least copy bibliographies.
It was afterschool one day in early May and Bette had walked with Greyson to his house after school. They had their history homework spread out on the kitchen table and the bibliography open in a Word document on the computer in the other room. They filled it in as they went and would just print off two copies when they were done. They were working for about an hour trading books and papers.
"Would you hand me the scissors?" Greyson asked. Bette passed the scissors with her left hand and kept writing in her notebook. "Are you sure you don't want to type that stuff up?"
"I probably will when I get home. I'm in a good grove right now." Her eyes darted back and forth between the library book and the notebook as she wrote fast. Her handwriting was terrible, but she could read it and would type it up quickly later. The last year on AOL instant messenger had made her a quick typer.
She was halfway through copying the important parts of the last paragraph she needed when the garage door opened. The side door opened to the house, a deep voice called out, "I'm home." He walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. Bette kept working, she barely saw him out of the corner of her eye, she didn't look up from her book and notebook; she focused. "Who's you're girlfriend, Grey?"
Greyson sighed. Bette looked at Greyson then to his brother in the kitchen. "Bette, you can keep ignoring Andrew. Andrew, you can be obnoxious elsewhere." Andrew was tall and thin with brown hair. He had a less angular face and fuller cheeks; his skin wasn't as thin or pasty as Greyson's, but he was still pale. Everyone was less pale compared to Bette and Greyson. He wore round glasses and a sweatshirt for Public North class of '02. He looked like the visual bridge between Greyson and Tylor.
"I think I might stay right here. You two might need a chaperone," Andrew teased. "I needed a chaperone when I had girls here at your age."
"You never had girls here when you were 14," said Greyson.
"So, she is your girlfriend," mocked Andrew.
Bette thought quickly. She was an only child, but she knew teasing and bullying. She learned how to deflate bullies. Lean into it and he won't have a leg to stand on. Greyson was about to speak, but Bette interrupted. "Greyson regularly dances in the hallway with another girl and me. We're his 'two ladies.' But since Katie isn't here, nothing's going to happen. We don't do anything without her." She quickly squeezed Greyson's hand and went back to her notes. She wasn't lying, she didn't acknowledge whether or not she was Greyson's girlfriend, but she made Greyson look good and sounded confident when she said it.
Andrew looked confused at them. "Is she serious?"
Greyson let out a little laugh. "Mine liben speaks true."
Bette kept taking notes. "Mine herr Greyson."
Andrew shook his head in disbelief, "Whatever." He walked away. "Middle schoolers."
Bette and Greyson silently high-fived and hid their laughs. Another hour later, they finished their project work for the day. They weren't close to done, but Bette put a significant dent in her research and Greyson got a bunch of his background art done for his tri-fold board. Bette got up and went to the living room phone. "I just gotta call my mom to pick me up."
"I can take you home." Said Andrew. "Any excuse to drive anywhere."
"I live a mile away. It'll take two seconds to get there," she said.
"Not the way he drives. He's had his license two months and he still drives like an old lady," Greyson said, flat as always.
Andrew sneered at Greyson and Greyson sneered back; the way brothers do. But Andrew smiled after, "Two mile 'round trip? Sounds good to me!" He said bounding off the couch, grabbing the keys, and going out the side door of the house. Greyson and Bette could hear the garage door open.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Bee," said Greyson.
"I guess I'll see you then." She grabbed her backpack and went out the side door into the garage. Andrew already had the garage door open and the car running. She got in the front seat and buckled up.
"Grey not coming?" Andrew asked.
"He said he'd see me tomorrow, so I guess not."
"Alright." Andrew reached over to the CDs in the visor over Bette. They were burned CDs she couldn't see what was written on the label. He put in the disk and started driving, she didn't recognize the music. "You're not really Greyson's girlfriend, are you." He said it as a statement though he phrased it as a question.
"What makes you say that? It's a left, two blocks, then a right, then eight straight. It'll be a light blue one." She deliberately answered his question with a question.
"Because if you were, he would have come along."
"Maybe we don't feel the need to cling to each other all the time. Maybe we're not gross like that."
"But he has two ladies?" Andrew made a confused face and glanced at Bette. "You know Tylor will tell me if I ask him."
"Tylor will tell you Katie and I are his two ladies and we dance with him in the hall. It's our thing."
Andrew stopped looking confused. "Ah, I get it. You're not his girlfriend. You're just his girl friends. I knew it!" He tapped his class ring on the steering wheel.
"Why does it matter?"
"Because you two were full of it."
She pointed as she spoke, "I didn't lie. I said we dance in the hall. We dance to 'Two Ladies' from 'Cabaret.' It's my favorite movie. Greyson plays the part of the Emcee in it. It's fun."
Andrew's jaw dropped. "Frickin' 'ay. You know he watched that movie every day-"
Bette interrupted him "Oh! I love this song!" She turned up the stereo. It was a comedy song called 'I Am Cow' by Arrogant Worms and she started to sing along to it. She turned it up loud so she could hear the song and less of herself.
Andrew pulled to a stop sign a few blocks from her house. He turned the music back down. "You know this song?"
She smiled big. "Summer camp! I hadn't heard it sung by a band though, just a bunch of camp counselors in black and white tie-dye."
He laughed as he pulled ahead. "I thought for a second you knew who the Arrogant Worms were."
"I do now," she nodded. She took a pen out of her backpack and started to write it on the back of her hand. "'Arrogant Worms?' Is that spelled like it sounds or do they spell it in a weird way?"
He laughed as he parked. "Don't worry about it." He ejected the disk and handed it to her. "I can burn another copy. Enjoy."
"Cool! Thanks!" She took the disk around the edges and opened the car door. "And thanks for the ride. My mom will appreciate the fact she didn't have to leave her tea and the evening news to get me."
Andrew gave her a friendly wave and a smile. "Hey, anytime. You're alright. But if you tell Grey I said that, I'll deny it."
"It'll be our secret." She waved and headed up the sidewalk. He waited until she was in the house before he pulled away.
Wednesday January 3, 2001
Bette was still shaken and upset from her bad date with Pete from the week before and their confrontation yesterday. She felt sick going back into school the next day. She had told her mom what had happened and she told Bette she did the best she could all things considered. Lorna wasn't happy about the fact she spread a rumor about someone, but every time Lorna got a little disappointed, Bette retorted with, 'He groped my boob, Mom!' Lorna told her she had to go back to school, she would still be safe there, and if that boy tried anything, he would probably be expelled. It gave Bette some comfort, but she still felt nauseous going in for the day. She went to her locker and took off her big coat and switched out books from her back pack. Her locker was near the end of the hallway near the art department at the top of the third floor stairs. She was already tired that morning, the climb didn't help. She started walking back towards the stairs and noticed her boot was untied. She stepped to the corner of the hallway, away from foot traffic, in front of the art display cases and started to retie her boot. She untied it and pulled the lace tight and one of the laces snapped. It was the last straw for Bette and she snapped too. She dropped the lace and put her face in her hands and cried. She was so sick of crying over what seemed like something so small and so big at the same time: what Pete had done to her. She felt stupid for letting herself flirt with him and letting him get close enough to kiss and grope her, and now even more foolish for crying in the hallway at school about it. She didn't even have any tissues with her. She would either have to make her way down the stairs or to the opposite end of the hall way to the girls' bathroom; the boys' bathroom was right in front of her. She knew she had to try and make do of the situation. She wiped her face with her sleeve and loosened her boot lace and tried to thread it back through the grommets of her boot. She sniffled and watched her tears fall. She wiped her nose on her jeans. "I can't imagine what is ruining your morning so bad." It was Greyson's brother Andrew. He crouched down strategically with his back towards the rest of the hallway to shield her. He handed her some balled up toilet paper. "I thought you could use this."
"Thanks," she whimpered. She blew her nose and put it in her sweatshirt pocket.
"Being a freshman can't be this bad, right?" He spoke lightheartedly.
She kept lacing her boot and had to tie it lower. The placement of the double knot would bother her all day and she knew it. "It's only mostly terrible," she tried to joke back. She tied the bow and stood up and Andrew stood with her. He had grown a little more in the last year, and in her boot, she was a bit taller too. At their full height, she stood eye-to-mouth with him.
"Seriously, I came up the stairs on my way to art and I saw you looking not-so-great. You alright?"
"Not really, but I will be." She shifted her weight and turned her ankle in her boot with the now shorter, frayed lace.
"Anything I can do to help?"
She scrunched up her face and shook her head. "Nah. You've done plenty." The first of two bells rang for class. "But thanks for this." She pulled the toilet paper back out of her pocket.
"Anytime." Andrew gave her an easy smile as they stepped away from each other.
She turned back to him as he approached the door way to the art room. "Oh, I did think of something."
"Ya," he spun on his toe.
"If you hear anything about Pete Johnson or me, it's true. He touched my boob and immediately came in his pants."
He raised his eyebrows and she could tell he glanced at her chest. "Is that a you thing or a him thing that caused that?"
"Does it matter?" She shrugged.
"Just wanted to know the secret." He tapped on the door frame twice and went in the class without getting the answer from her.
Bette was in massive trouble still with her parents from them finding out she was having sex with Keith. She got permission from them to go to Greyson's brother's graduation party. She could ride her bike there and had to call when she arrived and before she left. The Wheelan house had caller ID now and so they would know when she was coming and going. She told them Keith was out of state on vacation with his family and there was no way he could be there anyways. They told her she still had to make the calls. It was part of her punishment and she had to get used to it. She tried not to whine or fuss about it, but she rolled her eyes when she left the room. She put the card in her messenger bag purse along with her CD player. She played the Arrogant Worms CD as she biked to the house. She made herself laugh and smile with the comedy songs. The CD Andrew had given her two years ago had made brought a smile to her face when she needed it; and lately, she needed it. 'I Am Cow' made her think of summer camp. 'The Last Saskatchewan Pirate' made her wonder what Canadian pirates would actually look like. 'Jesus's Brother Bob' cracked her up to no end as a lapsed Methodist. She got over halfway through the CD when she got to the party in full swing. She found Greyson quickly; he wanted very little involvement in his brother's party. They knew they could help distract each other from the party itself. She didn't want to be at home around her parents, and he didn't want to be involved with his brother's nerdy friends. She got to the house and he brought her inside to call her parents to let them know she was there. They hung out in the kitchen and grazed on the snack trays before his mom came in and told him to go back outside and help with the party. Bette was due to make her appearance anyways. She and Greyson had a signal for each other if one of them wanted to escape the space: scratch their nose.
Bette put her card in the basket with all the other cards and looked at the long table of Andrew's photos. Many were just of him, some of the family. Pictures of Andrew playing the viola, involved with theater tech crew, and the diving team. She snickered with a snort when she saw one of Andrew, Greyson, and Tylor all in a bathtub when they were all under the age of four. They all looked totally different and somehow exactly the same over the years. "Uh-oh. Someone found the baby photos," said Andrew.
She flipped a page in the photo album. "Precious memories, I'm sure. I don't even have any relatives close in age or distance. It must be nice."
"It's nicer for them, Ty and Grey. They're the ones who are more like brothers."
Bette gave Andrew a sour face. "They squabble all the time! And over the pettiest stuff! During the last week of school they fought over whether Tom Green was ever funny or not. It got weirdly heated."
"Tylor said funny?"
"Yes." Her face dropped with understanding. "My point is, at least you have a brother, and a cousin, and they're close by."
"Not sure how it's gonna feel when they remain close by; living at home this fall, going to the local U' and all."
"Beats being broke, right?"
He made a scale mime with his hands. "Broke with freedom? Live at home with money? I don't know yet."
She playfully pinched his cheek and spoke sarcastically. "I'm sure your mommy will make sure you're home for bedtime on school nights."
He joked back, "Hey, I wear big boy pants now. I shave and everything!"
"With your sweet baby face?" She looked at her fingers that had just touched his cheek. "You must have just started."
He turned his head and looked at her out of the corner of his eye, "Who said it was my face?"
Bette got wide-eyed as he pinched her cheek before he walked away from her.
Late November 2002
Bette had just dropped Jenna off after seeing 8-Mile with her. She could not stop grinning about what had happened with Jesse in the theater. Even though she was full of popcorn and Diet Coke, she was craving something else. Something she couldn't quite put her finger on. She was driving towards home and pulled into the lot of the Walgreen's pharmacy. Good chocolate. She walked in and still had some birthday cash and a little more in her wallet and decided to treat herself. She grabbed her favorite lip color from the make up section, a bar of Godiva chocolate, and after the run in with Jesse, she thought it might be best to buy new condoms and put them in a safe place. She grabbed a three-pack of of condoms and hoped that the person ringing her up wouldn't check her ID and stop the purchase because she was only 17 and not 18. But she was so high from getting Jesse off in the theater, she felt like she could fly and not be stopped. She was in line with her items when a voice from the photo department yelled, "I can check out someone over here." Bette recognized the deep voice, turned and walked quickly. Andrew was working the counter.
"Hey stranger," she said to Andrew.
"Hey. You stalking me at work now?" He joked. He scanned the lipstick and put it in the plastic bag.
"Just coincidence. But I could make arrangements to do so if necessary," she joked back. He scanned the chocolate and put it in the bag.
"Might make the day go by quicker and the nights more interesting." He scanned the box of condoms and put it in the bag. "But it looks like your nights are already interesting." He leaned forward and whispered. "I'm really not supposed to sell those to anyone under 18. But I'd rather sell you those than a pregnancy test."
She whispered back, "I won't tell if you won't."
He gave her a wink, "It's still our secret."
Late December 2003
Bette was absolutely giddy dropping off the roll of film at the Walgreen's after finishing it with Ozzy. She knew she couldn't use the darkroom at school for the photos they took because they wouldn't be for an assignment, she was in them and couldn't be the subject of her own photos, and she looked like she could have been naked in the ones Ozzy took. The day she picked them up, Andrew was working the photo counter again. "More photos again Bee? This has to be your third roll this month."
"Yeah. I get a little impatient for certain pictures, but this roll I was especially excited about."
Andrew shifted his stance. "Yeah...I could see that," he said cautiously.
Bette got a sly look on her face. "You developed my roll, didn't you?"
He had trouble looking at her. "Wh-when did you turn 18?"
She opened the envelope, "A month ago and I'm fully clothed in the pictures. It's just a draped sheet."
"They got my attention at first because I saw Ozzy. I see him all the time. They're great pictures of him. Then all of a sudden the machine starts popping out pictures of you and I just about freaked out. These aren't regular pictures."
She started to flip through them right at the counter. She had a dazed look on her face looking at Ozzy. She saw the one with the look on his face that left her aroused, the last picture of him, she stared at it for a moment. "They aren't regular pictures. He's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."
"'Eye of the beholder.' I get that."
"Yeah," He looked around to make sure no one was around them. "But flip to the next ones."
Bette looked at the pictures Ozzy took of her in his bed where she appeared to wear just his sheet. She flipped through them slowly, methodically, reliving the photo session in her memory of Ozzy's voice, touch, and the click of the camera. Her eyes had been mostly closed, but Ozzy saw her. He saw something she couldn't see. The pictures of her weren't perfect: she could see the outline of her bra, she could see her shirt in one, her hair was messy. She looked at Andrew, "These are gorgeous. Amazing," her voice was hardly more than a whisper.
He raised his eyebrows, "They are, but I kinda thought you were more humble than that."
She was taken aback and couldn't hide it, "I meant his skills with my camera, not how I look."
They both saw the other turn red. They said it at the same time, "It'll be our secret."
Bette had worked her last shift at the museum and was taking some time to get the last of her stuff packed up and take a little bit of rest before leaving for college. It was a Thursday evening and Bette was having another craving for good chocolate and none was in the house. She grabbed her mom's keys and let her know she was going to go and grab some and would be home later. Lorna waved her off without looking up from her nail file. She got to the Walgreen's and went right for the candy aisle and grabbed the Godiva chocolate she craved along with a Toblerone bar. Some for now, some for later. She meandered up and down the aisles a little in no real rush to get home. She passed by the employees only door and Andrew walked out and away from her in a way that he didn't see her.
"Hey. I'm not stalking you, I swear!" She said.
Andrew stopped and turned to see Bette holding her chocolate and giving him a wave. "You stalk me when I'm working and when I'm getting off work. I swear, it's the only reason you became friends with Greyson in the first place," he teased. She had been there a lot in the last year to get film developed, but now that high school was over, she was hardly there at all anymore. She had intentionally been seeing and calling Greyson a lot at the end of the school year, but now that was over too. Greyson had left to go to college the previous week. Soon she would be gone too.
"You know that makes zero sense. I've known Greyson since first grade and he and I have been friends since seventh."
Andrew joked as he spoke as he often did with her, "Yet you never spent more time around the house until you met moi!"
"I had to see what God's punchline to merging Tylor and Greyson looked and acted like."
"You're just that: you're like the merger of the two of them, just a little older."
Andrew got a little grin on his face, but it had a melancholy to it, "Yeah. Being the oldest isn't all it's cracked up to be. You'd think they would be compared to me, but it's always been the other way around as you said."
She got a guilty look on her face, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to strike a nerve there."
"You didn't know."
She was quiet for a second. "I remember you helped me once when I was down. How can I cheer you up?"
His melancholy grin turned into a sweet one. "You ever watch 'Invader Zim?'"
"No, but I've heard of it. Mom and Dad canceled the cable a while ago."
"You wanna watch 'Invader Zim?'"
They left the pharmacy and went to his house. Bette called home on her new cell phone and let her mom know where she was and that she'd be home later. Andrew brought Bette up to his room. He opened up a file on his computer and played the episodes. She sensed the tension as they sat on his twin sized bed watching the cartoon together. She shared the chocolate she bought. They didn't talk. They didn't touch. They laughed and enjoyed the four episodes he played. After the show, he opened his iTunes and played more obscure comedy music for her. They talked about old times and favorite comedians. She laughed until she snorted. They laughed until they cried. They laughed until they started yawning.
"It's getting late. I should go. I got more packing to do in the morning," she said.
"Sure. I gotta work at eight," Andrew said. He walked her to the front door of the house and opened the door as she put her shoes on. "It does seem a shame we weren't better friends over the years. I mean, two years? It seems hardly a difference now."
She slipped on her other sneaker and stood. "Yeah. This was fun tonight. I don't know why we didn't do this before. You were nice to me. You were always cool to me. Did Greyson's other friends think so?"
Andrew got a puzzled look on his face. "Not exactly. I was the dorky one. But you? There was always, kinda, a mythos about you: the way Oz talked about you to Grey, the Powerful Lady, whatever that thing was with Pete Johnson that made him bust a nut. And you were still okay with Greyson's dorky brother around."
She sighed and got a little grin on her face. "First of all, that 'mythos' is just that. I'm just like everyone else. Second, you only heard stuff from a very specific, captive audience."
He interrupted, "Tylor liked you for a while."
"Yeah. When we were 13 and desperate for attention from the opposite sex. I've seen him beat them off with a stick and beg for orgies. Not really my thing," she dismissed. "My point is, I was much more meek geek than mythos."
"I was never cool either," he said somewhat shamefully before changing his tone to a positive one. "That's the nice thing about college. No one cares about that stuff. And those who do, are really pathetic."
"It will be nice to be a powerful lady without having the stories follow me."
He gestured and talked like a commercial, "Powerful Lady, University Edition: all the POW, none of the stigma."
She laughed again and moved to hug him. "Thanks again. I didn't realize how much I needed this tonight."
He squeezed her back. "I would say we should do this again, but, we're not going to have another chance, are we?"
She was slightly on her toes with her chin on his shoulder and her smile dropped when he said it. "I don't think so, no."
They opened up their hug and they looked at each other. She knew that look on a guy's face, but Andrew was 20, she'd never seen it on a grown man's face. For a split second, she saw her own soft expression reflected in his glasses. They slowly moved to each other and kissed. His kiss was tender, thoughtful, what she thought a kiss at the end of an adult first date should feel like.
He pulled back, looked at her, smiled and let out a single laugh. "I was curious what that would be like with you."
She smiled back, "I was wondering the same thing about you."
Her smile turned into a grin as she let go of him and reached for the door knob. "I think that's the last secret we keep."