My cold blue eyes were positively glacial enough to cause it to frost over on a summer’s day. They widened, narrowed, then finally darkened. What I was seeing really, really did not please me. My hands balling into fists either side of my body and the lump in my throat were enough to reassure me of that. Heart pounding, adrenaline rushing, I careened over to the group of boys gathered around the old wooden bridge. From where I was standing, and the way they were knitted so closely together, I no doubtedly could have overlooked what was going on. Fortunately I had seen her cross the road, stupid frilly-ass dress swinging as she bopped her way to the other side. Unfortunately, my gang had seen her first… Her long blond hair and heart-shaped face would cause anybody to double take, but sadly, my boys weren’t exactly girlfriend shopping, you see. They had a bone to pick with girly-O - and boy, she’d be getting it!
Not today. They’d been real smart. But not today. I can’t let this happen… Within mere seconds I was in the heat of the situation.
‘Hey, guys! Leave her the fuck alone, you hear!’
In perfect unison, the three boys whipped around to see who their perpetrator was. Ben scoffed when he realised it was just me. With his back turned, I could just about see. There… I squinted into the sunlight and shielded my eyes from the sun. She was too fucking short for anybody on the outside of the circle to see, so it was awful lucky I’d seen her cross the road. If I hadn’t, she’d be a dead girl by now. The trembling wreck inside the tight-knit circle sounded although she was about to start hyperventilating if I hadn’t intervened. Her brown eyes were red-rimmed and wider than saucers. Her skin was bloodless yet blotchy from crying. For a while, everything just stopped. My gang watched me warily - each boy as confused as the next. They studied my stony expression with great apprehension and I was just about to let them have it when I was interrupted.
‘We caught this scrawny little nigger-loving bitch down near our turf. Why so mad, skirt? Don’t cha want to have a go?’ One of the three cronies guffawed dumbly, scratching his greased-back hair.
My lower lip trembled. Not because I was going to cry or anything soft like that, but because I was this close to exploding.
‘She’s real mad with us,’ Ben whispered just audible for me to hear. That was it. Whatever happens next, for the record, is completely not my fault. They provoked me.
‘Of course I’m fuckin’ mad with you!’ I heard myself roar, no longer in control of my anger. Hanging with these guys, I found myself to grow more and more impulsive. ‘What did she fucking do to you? She’s just a little kid! A little kid with a maid. She’s done nothing to you. You have no reason to pick on her, she’s innocent. Let her go.’
They didn’t look like they wanted to stop shoving and pushing her around like a beach ball, so I wrapped my fingers around the metallic cool of my switchblade inside my leather jacket and glowered deeply. ‘Now.’
‘Why should we? You’re just another stupid girl. Not only that, but you’re posing as a boy! Now, why don’t you just-’
I didn’t get to hear what Todd was going to suggest. My fist had already swung into his jaw. Everybody stopped and stared as Todd spat blood onto the wood below. Hardly even aware of this, I gave a fruity-sounding laugh as Todd backhanded the blood off of his face. The little girl’s eyes widened even further and her rosy cheeks flushed, either with embarrassment or fear. The other two boys let out a snarl and threw girly-O out the circle, and luckily, into my arms. She risked an anxious glance up into my face just after her body had came slamming into my own, decided I was trustworthy and burrowed into my chest. Girly-O felt stiff as a board, yet warm in my arms. Glaring ferociously with teeth gritted and wavy strands of dyed hair hanging into my eyes, I pulled the stranger closer as she snivelled into my leather jacket, wrapping my arms around her in a firm embrace, almost like a bear hug. My gang watched me impassively; Todd dabbing the blood off his stubbly chin with his mother’s lacy handkerchief, Ben hawking a fat wad of spit onto the wood and Scottie playing with his blade. All eyes on me.
‘If you want the fucking-A nigger-lover so much, just have her!’ Somebody yelled. I wasn’t quite sure who - I was too busy seeing red. Girly-O trembled like a leaf.
‘Why don’t you fuckin’ make out with ‘er while you’re at it! You look like you reeaaaallly want to!’ Another snickered. The greaser held up his index and middle fingers towards me, creating a V before flicking his tongue between them. The other boys guffawed but my expression remained phlegmatic. Luckily, the girl didn’t see the vulgar gesture, although, I doubted she would know what it meant anyway.
‘Butch! Butch! Butch! Butch!’ Todd chanted, his voice sounding nasally from when I’d punched him.
My cheeks didn’t flame like I’d expected them too, but I felt some shame welling up inside. Moving girly-O aside, I rolled my sleeves up and sashayed closer to my “friends”.
‘Which one of you fuckers wants to die first, hm? Personally, I don’t give a shit, but the decision is all yours.’
The three goons burst out laughing much to my dismay. Why won’t they ever take me seriously?!
‘You’re a girl. You can’t do anything.’ Scottie said slowly, although speaking to a young child.
‘Just you watch.’ I hissed, sounding more confident than I felt.
Imitating the fights my brothers would have, I strutted until I was inches from Scottie’s face. ‘I guess you’re first then, Scottie-boy.’
Ben wolf whistled and Todd crowed with infuriating malice.
‘Ooohoooo! The girl can tough talk! Let’s just see you fight, honey.’
In the background I could see the unknown girl cower in fear. Was she fearing for me? I hope so. They can beat the shit outta me, but if they so much as lay a finger on an innocent like herself, I’ll be onto them before they can draw breath.
‘Just because I’m a female doesn’t mean I can’t kill you.’
‘Girl’s are weak. Girl’s are pussies. Get back to the kitchen, Cherry.’
Honest to God I’d had enough at that point. Grabbing the sleek sheen of Scottie’s jacket, I forcefully brought my forehead down onto his own and shoved him outta my face.
‘Bitch just head-butted me!’ He cried, ‘Fuckin-A! Son of a bitch. Get ‘er!!’
The two goons flanked his side and grew closer. I wasn’t scared. Nope. He held a hand to his temples and rubbed. Whilst his hands were busy, I took the opportunity and arched my foot around and into his crotch. Laughing wildly, the hair in my eyes and my heart dancing a mambo, I took on the other two while the bastard clutched his aching balls and howled in agony an only a boy would feel. Like a bat outta hell (self proclaimed) I narrowly dodged a fist swung in my direction and twisted round, grabbing the outstretched arm and jerked it. Hard. I heard a snap. Then a gasp, presumably from Girly-O’s direction. Todd joined his pathetic friend on the bleached wood and into the mixed sounds of pain. Two down. One to go. Ben. He was tough. Not as tough as me, though!
With an animal-like urge and willpower, he grabbed my hair before I could so much as yell out. Thankfully, I still had my hands free. Long dirty nails sunk into the flesh of his upper arms and penetrated. My face a snarl, his a ghostly mask, I brought him down to his knees and kicked him in the teeth, his paws ripped out of my hair. Needless to say, ol’ Ben lost a few teeth that day.
‘Now fuck off.’
There were grumbles of protest, but as I gave them the most menacing expression I could muster, they fled the scene, leaving girly-O all to myself. Her body twitched towards the left although she was thinking of making a quick getaway. The blond backed away, pressing her back against the bridge with fearful eyes. Alarmed, I felt she thought I was going to hurt her just like those boys did.
‘I’m not going to hurt you. Chill man!’
She said nothing. Mouth opening and closing like a goldfish’s.
‘Cat got your tongue?’
Her expression frantic, petite hands curled up into her heavy skirts, she mumbled something completely inaudible, obviously seeing me as a threat. I had to strain to hear.
‘Huh? What was that?’
‘I-I said, thank you for helping me…’
‘Oh! No need to thank me,’ I paused, striking a pose like Superman, ‘It’s all in a good day’s work, fair maiden!’
The girl snorted a giggle, and clasped her hands over her mouth whilst she did it. She seemed kinda adorable… With neat blond waves a little past her waist, she looked like a princess from Medieval times, off to go bare horseback ride into the village. Her brown eyes were huge, magnified by fear, but still beautiful with long, black eyelashes. Cheeks were flushed a healthy rose colour, and she had a heart-shaped face and fair skin. Girly-O stood around only five foot, giving me a good eight inches above her. She looked weedy too… No wonder those guys thought they could pick on her.
‘You’re such a dope!’ I exclaimed, feigning exasperation, ‘A cute, sweet dope.’
Momentarily, her eyes flickered up to meet mine. She dropped her gaze. Shy again.
I tried a question this time. ‘So, where’d you roll in from then?’
Again, the goldfish gesture. ‘I come from France, but my dad’s American.’
‘I thought so. You got an accent.’
‘That reminds me, I haven’t asked your name, girly-O. How rude of me!’
A rock was thrown our way. Luckily it was such a shit aim, nobody got hurt - but “Ai” jumped ten feet in the air.
‘You’re out of the gang, lesbian!’ Came a yell from the right. I ignored them, resisting the urge to throw it back. Harder.
‘Ai?’ I prompted.
My eyebrows must have raised, for she looked hurt. ‘That’s an… unusual name. But pretty. Is it French?’
‘No, not at all,’ Aika giggled, ‘It’s Japanese.’
My eyebrows were lost to my hair.
‘Daddy thought it was edgy, so Aika it was,’ she sighed, crossing her arms across her chest. ‘Mother wanted a traditional French name. Dad wouldn’t buy it though.’ To say she seemed disappointed with her name was like saying boys are stupid.
Trying to be kind to this shy girl, I asked her what it meant. She seemed confused.
‘You know, like how all names have meanings. Sarah means “princess” and uh, Ellie means “light”.’
She looked embarrassed. Mumbled something under her breath again.
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.’
‘… It means “love song”.’ Her face went to beetroot and I chortled.
Aika Rowland didn’t exactly seem like the party animal kind, but, she did seem cute. Real cute. I cleared my throat and asked her if she wanted to perhaps get a shake over at The Hop.
The Hop was a diner just a stones throw away from downtown. This was where all the “cool kids” hung apparently, but all I see is lanky, spotty teenagers sipping milkshakes and smoking tobacco. Need I say it? I have to admit I was the coolest cat around these parts. With the jukebox playing all the latest rock n’ roll hits at full blast - it’s like The Hop and I were meant to be. Mostly I hang there alone just to listen to my idols Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley. Occasionally I’d purchase a strawberry shake or a chocolate banana split, but mostly it’s the music that attracts me to the place. The place is decked out with numerous bar stools and booths, couples sat holding hands and drinking out of the same milkshake (yuck!), teenage girls giggling together about boys (double yuck!) and then there’s me. A regular.
‘So, are you upset that they kicked you out of the gang?’ Aika asked me with innocent eyes. She was currently seated opposite me, her petticoats and pink gingham dress fanned out across the baby blue of the booth. Elvis Presley’s ‘Teddy Bear’ blared out in the background. I bobbed my head to the music and drummed my hands on the table top. His husky voice always gave me the chills. I loved Elvis.
‘Not really,’ I lied.
Truth be told, I was fuming. How dare they just kick me out like that?! I was the life and soul of the group. The leader for Christ’s sake! Being in that group was my one chance to show women were just as good as men - and guess what? - I blew it. Blew it double time… They’ll never accept me back with open arms.
On the bright side, Aika Rowland seemed like a real sweet gal.
‘Are you sure? You seem pretty hurt, Cherry.’
‘Yeah, I ain’t sad. It doesn’t matter. Not to me! Just wait, they’ll be begging for me to come back,’ I snorted, pulling a ridiculous face and rolling my eyes.
‘Well…’ She hesitated and averted her eyes, ‘I’m glad you’re not sad, Cherry. I feel partly responsible for that…’ She appeared melancholy.
I chuckled darkly. ‘Who in their right mind would miss them!’
‘Stupid boys! Stupid boys!’ Aika chanted teasingly, swinging her legs under the table.
‘Fuck, yeah! Who needs em?’
A young and skinny waitress arrived, taking our orders and swiftly departing. A strawberry milkshake for Aika - and a cherry coke float for yours truly. I thanked the lady without so much as glancing her way, my eyes were too busy being trained on Aika’s petite form.
‘It was really cool the way you beat those boys up,’ my new friend piped up, eyes sparkling with the memories. I doubted she’d ever forget that moment. It was pretty badass if I don’t say so myself!
‘Oh, that. They were weaklings anyway, but don’t tell your mom. She’d have a bird if she knew you were hanging with the likes of me.’
‘My mum’s in France.’ That melancholy reappeared on her face, ‘But I do wonder what she’d think of a girl like you!’ How blunt!
‘Heeeeyy… What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Oh, um, sorry. I don’t mean it in a rude way. I-I just-’
I spluttered - not being able to take this any longer.
‘You’re so goddamn cute!
‘Oh, Aika! It’s so funny how I make you nervous! Just chill, man!’
‘Don’t be sorry.’
‘Sorry! Oh, um, sorry!’
‘You just did it again.’
‘Sorry! Ah, I did it again.’
My belly was aching by the time the waitress arrived back with our orders. How many times could she say sorry without meaning to?
The cherry coke float tasted just as good as I remembered. Of course I always chose it because of the similarity to my name, but it sure was delicious. The ice-cold condensation on the glass made my mouth feel extra dry, so I downed half of it before Aika had even stirred the contents of her shake. I picked the long silver spoon from out the depths of the coke and started on the melting vanilla ice cream.
Aika was taking a tentative slurp of her milkshake before I interrupted her with a question designed to fluster. I couldn’t help it! It was just too funny to watch her flounder.
‘You’re pretty. Have you ever kissed a boy?’
Her jaw dropped. Almost comically, too.
‘No! Boys are disgusting!’
‘Good girl. You’re too young for that anyway.’
‘What about you?’
‘The last boy I played with, I killed.’
Her eyes widened briefly before realising what I said was meant in jest.
I paused for a moment and came up with my usual gag. Mother always used to roar laughing at this one:
‘I like men… but I couldn’t eat a whole one. Ha!’
The small girl opposite almost choked on her drink. Her eyes bulged but she tried her hardest not to laugh.
‘You should tell my brother that. He’d love it.’
‘You have brothers? Me too. Ugh, they’re such a pain.’
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see two teenage boys seating themselves in the booth adjacent to ours. They eyed Aika suspiciously but soon went back to studying the menus. I narrowed my eyes, mentally preparing myself to protect her if those boys were anything like my gang. I’d had enough for one day.
Little by little, Aika seemed to be getting chattier. Opening up to me. I like this Aika chick, even if she can be… what’s the word? Frivolous. She stirred the contents of her glass, caught my staring eyes, bowed her head and looked down and away. Smiled coyly.
I eyeballed the boys next door one final time before going to take a sip of my coke. My elbow was unfortunately, in front of my drink. Being the clumsy oaf I am, the half full cup went flying off the table; soaking the seat of my jeans, a puddle collecting on the cracked leather of the booth and, much to my complete and utter shame, saturating the adjacent boys. One leapt from his ass with his wet arms spread wide and mouth agape. The other sat stunned in his cherry coke lake, his pants soaking through completely. Aika’s mouth emulated a goldfish once again.
In the hot mess of this pandemonium, I had no a clue what to do or say. Instead, I found myself giving a horrendously loud, horse-like hee-haw and galloped off, leaving the poor girl to sink into humiliation in my wake. In embarrassing situations, laughing it off is the only way to deal with it. Otherwise, I’d just cry… What made it worse was that I left Aika to pay the bill alone. Oh boy… If those guys lay a finger on her because of me I swear-
‘Cherry!’ The bell of the diner chimed as Aika made her way outside. I had to admit, her elegant way of sauntering made me wish I could be graceful like her.
I inspected her coolly.
‘Cherry, what happened? I had to pay the bill alone!’
Averting my eyes, I muttered, ‘I’m sorry.’
She caught my eye. In that moment, I realised she wasn’t mad at me. The grin on her face said it all. Her grin was found to be contagious and spread to my own face. She covered her mouth and we both burst out giggling until we turned red in the face. I felt the shame leave my body, to be replaced with much pleasanter emotions; humour, relief, relaxation, and love.