Chasing the Red Queen, chapter 1

Watercolor Memories

You know, looking back, I remember so well that summer I turned eighteen. Black was my color, goth my life, Debbie Hall my BFF, Kevin my heartthrob, weekends at Silver Beach, the mall, an android phone and a used Honda Civic, my very own. Life was good, really, really, good and then—it all changed

Twin Cities

The day was glorious with the blinding overhead orb pushing the temperatures past eighty degrees. Cruising down Lakeshore Drive with the waves of Lake Michigan crashing, seventeen-year-old Donja Bellanger bypassed the city of St. Joseph, her destination its sister city of Benton Harbor. She glanced over to Debbie, her best friend since fourth grade, who was applying gloss over her black lipstick. “Don’t let me forget to get eyeliner, I’m out!” she shouted over the iconic tunes of The Cure.

Just off Napier Avenue, which was busy for the noon hour, Donja sped through a yellow light and rolled into Benton Harbor. Adrift in the music which was all but rattling the fender wells, she darted ahead of oncoming traffic into the parking lot of the Burger Shack. She eased her Honda into the drive-through, manning the steering wheel with her knees while digging in her purse for loose change. After grabbing their sugar-free, vanilla lattes, she careened past a delivery truck onto Pipestone Road. Sipping her latte, she took a fast exit without the courtesy of a blinker, cars honking as she darted into the parking lot of Hurley’s Quick Stop. She pulled alongside the pumps and got out, the smell of gasoline nauseating.

Standing beside her rusted-out Civic, pinching her nose tightly while pumping gas, Donja noticed a well-dressed, older woman at the pumps, filling her Cadillac, and she was out and out staring. The woman shook her head with bewildered disgust.

Debbie got out of the Civic and came marching around the rear. “You need anything?”

“No,” Donja smirked, her dark, painted eyes bleeding bitterness.

Debbie raised her hands and hunched her shoulders. “What’s wrong?”

Donja nodded toward the woman. “That old bag in the Caddy has obviously never seen a goth. I think she’s gonna stroke out.”

Debbie flashed as menacing a look as she could muster to the woman. Her hand found her waist and one of her pointed ankle boots tapped rhythmically.

The old woman, who suddenly seemed fearful, finished up and got in her car. Debbie curtsied as the woman drove away.

Laughing, Donja finished up the gas, waiting for the receipt which was slow coming. With the Honda’s front door wide, she surveyed the floorboards, then snatched up pop bottles and several empty burger boxes from ‘MaFee’s,’ who makes the best cheeseburgers in town. Her demeanor shifted as a genuine shudder rocked her.

Grrr, I don’t want to move. This is not fair!

Just shy of the trash can, with her lips held tightly, it occurred to her that this might be her last visit to Hurley’s, where flirtation with the proprietor, who was balding with tufts of hair that stood up on top of his shiny head, could buy you cigarettes without being carded. Dismayed, she tossed the garbage and headed for the car. She saw Debbie exit the store sashaying through the parking lot with a couple packs of cigarettes just as a souped-up four-wheel drive truck, with three rowdy guys inside, came barreling in. The driver leaned his head through the window, a muscled arm hugging the outside of the door, “Hey, baby, wanta party?”

She ignored them and got in the Civic. “Damn. I forgot to get a lighter.”

“No worries, there’s one in my purse,” Donja said, tossing Debbie her black shoulder bag as one of the rednecks from the four-wheel drive came walking toward them. She cranked the car, fired him a get lost look, then eased the car to the street and cut ahead of oncoming traffic. Finally, she merged with the flow of cars and set a path back down Pipestone Road.

Debbie turned on the radio and propped one foot on the dash. “He was kinda cute.”

Donja rolled her eyes. “Whatever!”

Minutes later, with the windows down and music blasting, Donja sped into the Walmart parking lot. Finding a space, she killed the motor and opened the door, which creaked ominously on the eighteen-year-old bucket of bolts. She got out and Debbie joined her, a cigarette dangling from her painted lips. She took a long drag then gave it to Donja.

“What the heck am I gonna do without you?” Debbie protested, blowing smoke. “It sucks.”

“And then some,” Donja breathed, exhaling as she returned the smoke. “But could we not talk about it; this is our last few days before I get shipped off to Mars.”

Debbie sputtered her dismay, flicked the ashes and took a drag. She offered it to Donja as smoke sighed out of her. “Go figure. Parents, always messing with your life.”

Donja spiked her brows with a hard gaze. “Don’t get me started.” She scowled, offering the cigarette.

Debbie accepted and with it poised between her finger tips, took another drag, then offered it back.

“I’m done,” Donja blurted as she spun, setting a lengthy stride.

Debbie dropped the cigarette, stomped it with her boot and hurried after her. They marched, side by side in short, black lace skirts, black ankle boots, fishnet stockings, black spandex tops, black denim jackets and leather dog chokers to match. Sunlight shimmered in Debbie’s spiked, blue-black locks and Donja’s naturally dark tresses which would have been blue-black except that she was forbidden to dye her hair. Just as they entered the sliding doors, a wolf whistle from the parking lot forced a giggle and then the greeter flashed a big smile. “Welcome to Walmart.”

Hours later, after rummaging through and trying on shoes, cute little tops, and sorting through purses and stockings, they finally found the packing tape and dog food Donja’s mother had requested. Debbie’s phone beeped a message as they headed for cosmetics.

She dug it from her purse, staring as she walked down the aisle. She bumped into an elderly couple, then mumbled an apology, her fingers flying over the screen. She sighed, mission accomplished, and put it back in her purse.

“Who was it?” Donja asked.

“Ashlie. She wants to know what time we’re gonna show up for the party Friday night.”

“What did you tell her?”

“Six-ish, after all the little kids go home.”

“Might be later than that. I bet the beach will be packed the entire week because of the warm weather.”

Donja parked the silver and blue cart, her eyes sparkling as she and Debbie descended upon the cosmetic racks, examining every product and within minutes they wound up in an argument over the ease of application of Rivithead versus Maybelline eyeliner. Obscenities began to fly until eventually a Walmart associate peeked around the corner and stalled the debate.

Debbie giggled with a hand to her mouth.

Donja simply feigned nonchalance. She snatched mascara from the rack and then once more browsed the aisle. She opted for jet black liner and metallic-blue, after midnight lipstick, while Debbie chose the fierce-glam, glue on lashes, and black glitter eyeshadow. They grabbed black nail polish, peel and press tattoos, hair gel and then a fifteen-minute wait at the checkout found them scanning every magazine cover and swooning over a picture of Robert Patrice, heartthrob of the new vampire series Trice I’ve Been Bitten.

“Isn’t that Triks Molee with him?” Debbie asked.

“Yeah and Shelley Thibeault told me that they’re secretly engaged.”

“Surely he won’t marry her, he just can’t,” Debbie chided.

“Why not?” Donja frowned. “She’s beautiful, she’s hot, a bit gothic actually, and her music’s really taking off.”

“I really wanted him and Kendra to…”

“Would you get over it already,” Donja interrupted. “She’s not into guys.”

“Well in the movie she was all over him—four kids all over him!”

“That’s just Hollywood.” Donja mumbled.

“Doesn’t matter,” Debbie smirked. “I don’t like this girl, and ‘Triks’,” she quirked her face, “what kind of name is that?”

“I like it,” Donja retorted, “it’s original and anyway, you’re just jealous because you got the hots for Roberto the Vampire,” she exaggerated the words and her eyes to match.

“Hell yeah,” Debbie scowled, “I’ll admit it, he can bite me any day of the week and twice on Sunday.” She put her hand on her hip and fired a look. “And don’t tell me you wouldn’t shit your pants if he planted his lips on your neck.”

“Girl, you are so crazy.”

“You’d part them legs in a heartbeat and you know it.”

“Mmm, careful what you wish for.”

Debbie fluttered her baby blues which shimmered behind artificial lashes. “Speaking of parting your legs, do you think Kevin’s gonna show up tonight?”

Donja ignored her. She pushed her hair behind her ears, then busied herself transferring items from the cart to the checkout counter.

“Well?” Debbie asked, waiting on a response which never came. Finally, with her lips skewed to one side, she leaned into the cart. “Don’t ignore me!”

Donja flashed a smile, which didn’t at all match the fire in her eyes. “I really don’t care.”

“The hell you don’t.” She smirked. “Just last week you were so hot for him, you almost caved, and now you suddenly don’t care. Tell me another one.”

“I was wrong about him,” Donja said, her bad girl image fading.

“What do you mean?” Debbie asked, her face suddenly serious.

“I mean, that he’s accepted me leaving and not once did he say, ‘I’m so sorry—I’m gonna miss you’, or ‘can we visit or skype’, no just—’do you think we could get it on before you go?’”

Debbie exhaled with a huff. “That’s cold.”

“I’m so over him.” Donja sighed.

“Hmmm, are you sure?”

Silence.

“That’ll be seventy-six twenty-seven,” the cashier said, eyeing them like circus freaks.

Donja swiped with her mom’s debit card and keyed the number on the pad, suddenly wishing she hadn’t bought the tattoos or nail polish.

She’s gonna kill me.

“So, are you over him or not?” Debbie asked.

Silence.

“You’re ignoring me—again,” Debbie whispered as she laid her head on Donja’s shoulder. “I didn’t mean to be a bitch.”

Donja pulled away and fired a look. “I’m fine, grab the bags and I’ll get the dog food.”

“Okay, but you didn’t—”

“Would you cut the twenty questions already,” Donja whispered with a bit more emotion than she intended.”

“Ouch,” Debbie scrunched her face. “You’re hurting, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to—”

“Forget it, I just need a cigarette.”

Traipsing back across the parking lot, Donja’s phone beeped.

Seeing ‘Lisa’ on the caller I.D. she warned Debbie. “It’s Mom.” She stopped, lay the dog food down and raised her phone. “Hey Mom.”

“Honey,” Lisa Bellanger blurted, “I just got a call and Frankie’s at the emergency room. I’m stuck here at the boutique getting my dress altered. Can you go?”

“Yeah, is he okay?”

“I’m not sure, they just said he got in a fight at baseball practice and the coach dropped him off at the hospital with a bloody nose.”

Donja sensed her anxiety. “Deep breath, Mom, I’m on my way.”

She heard her mom take a ragged breath. “Good, I shouldn’t be too long,” she responded. “I’ll meet you there.”

Donja put the phone in her purse and snatched up the dog food.

Debbie repositioned the steel blue Walmart bags in her hands. “What’s wrong?”

“Frankie’s at the hospital,” Donja muttered without looking, setting a fast pace.

“Holy crap, what happened?”

“Seems he got into a fight,” she whispered.

“Is he hurt bad?”

“I don’t think so, but Mom’s clearly upset and the sound of her voice,” she paused, wiping at her eyes. “Whew! It got me going—the same old pain all over again.”

“Ahhh,” Debbie responded knowingly as they trudged across the parking lot. Donja searched for her keys, then tossed their items in the trunk. Inside, she fired the engine and lit a cigarette with a slight but obvious tremor. She gassed the Honda, darting into traffic then sped through a yellow light, driving as fast as she dared down Napier Avenue. She tossed the ciggy out the window as they passed the St. Joseph River and rifled in her purse for a breath mint as they climbed the hill to the hospital. Outside the Lakeland Emergency Department she parked the car and they hurried inside, ignoring the stares. Seeing a nurse whose name badge read C. Frizzell, R.N., Donja approached. “I’m here to check on my brother, Frankie Bellanger.”

She pointed down the hall. “Room Four B, but you may have to wait, Doctor Hamel’s with him now.”

Navigating the busy hallway, Donja heard Frankie’s voice, and knowing his temperament like the back of her hand, she arched a brow. He’s pissed about something.

Nearing the door, she paused rooted in place, listening.

“Yeah, I hit him first,” Frankie grumbled. “But he deserved it, he was making fun of my sister.”

“Well, that’s admirable,” a male voice, which Donja assumed was the doctor, drifted out the door. “Are you and your sister close?”

“Kinda, except she’s always telling me to get lost.”

“How old is she?” The Doctor asked.

“Ouch, that hurts,” Frankie complained.

Donja peeked into the exam room, unobserved.

“Sorry, but I have to clean it,” the doctor said softly, gauze in hand, a nurse standing beside him. “How old did you say your sister is?”

“Seventeen and she’s a goth.”

“I see. So how do you feel about that?” The doctor tilted Frankie’s head back with a light checking his pupils.

“It’s okay I guess,” Frankie mumbled. “But some of the guys on my team say nasty things about her.”

A bit rueful, Donja glanced at Debbie who was solemn as lamb. She swallowed hard, then leaned on the door jamb and exhaled. Hearing footsteps she glanced, and she saw her mother approaching at a fast clip. Now suddenly contrite, Donja met her gaze.

“Is he okay?”

“The Doctor’s with him now,” Donja said softly.

Lisa’s eyes narrowed and if the anxiety which Donja heard just minutes ago still existed, she hid it well. “What’s wrong, honey, you look down.”

“Just one of those days,” Donja stuttered, avoiding eye contact.

Lisa darted into the exam room and Donja seized Debbie by the arm. “Let’s go.”

“We better wait for your mom.”

Donja glanced back to the exam room and watched the doctor and her mom talking. “I suppose you’re right,” she conceded.

They strolled down the hallway to a packed waiting room. As they sat down, Donja tugged at her skirt which was riding up her thighs. A fleeting glance revealed two women who were whispering and opposite them, a man who was leering. She averted her gaze and though she was used to it, as it happened all the time, her temper flared. She exhaled, then forced her eyes on the T.V. watching, but not listening. She folded her arms over her chest with Frankie’s words echoing her mind.

“Say nasty things about her. Nasty things, nasty things, nasty things!”

She slid deeper into the chair and hugged herself tightly. She knitted her brows and tried to brush it off, but his words stung her cheeks like a slap.

“Holy shit, isn’t that the town where you’re moving?” Debbie asked, eyes on the news broadcast.

Donja, jerked from reverie, focused on the television, listening intently to a commentator who was detailing the murder of a nineteen-year-old Chippewa female found in an alleyway in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. “That’s horrible,” Donja said, “but that city’s in Canada. We’re moving to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.”

Debbie rolled her eyes. “Two cities with the same name, are you sure?”

“Well no, not really, I’ve never been there but…” Seeing her mom approaching, Donja’s words fell short. She stood up and clutched her purse to her chest as a guilt-induced nervousness washed over her.

I wonder if the doctor told her Frankie was defending me?

Her heart thumped as Lisa drew near.

“Is he okay?” Donja blurted with her voice approaching anguish.

“He’s got a busted-up nose just in time for the wedding,” Lisa said with half raised brows that expressed her annoyance.

Debbie hardly let her finish before she mumbled under her breath, “Bummer.”

Contrite, Donja dropped her head.

Yeah, I hear ya and it’s all my fault.