7

Sitting in the minivan with the keys in the ignition but the engine not yet started, she asked, “What time do your parents get up, by the way?”

“I don’t know, like, six-fifteen?” It was 3:51. “I mean, we have two-plus hours and we’re through with nine parts.”

“I know, but I saved the most laborious one for last. Anyway, we’ll get it all done. Part Ten — Q’s turn to pick a victim.”

“What?”

“I already picked a punishment. Now you just pick who we’re going to rain our mighty wrath down on.”

“Upon whom we are going to rain our mighty wrath,” I corrected her, and she shook her head in disgust. “And I don’t really have anyone upon whom I want to rain down my wrath,” I said, because in truth I didn’t. I always felt like you had to be important to have enemies. Example: Historically, Germany has had more enemies than Luxembourg. Margo Roth Spiegelman was Germany. And Great Britain. And the United States. And czarist Russia. Me, I’m Luxembourg. Just sitting around, tending sheep, and yodeling.

“What about Chuck?” she asked.

“Hmm,” I said. Chuck Parson was pretty horrible in all those years before he’d been reined in. Aside from the cafeteria conveyor belt debacle, he once grabbed me outside school while I waited for the bus and twisted my arm and kept saying, “Call yourself a faggot.” That was his all-purpose, I-have-a-vocabulary-of-twelve-words-so-don’t-expect-a-wide-variety-of-insults insult. And even though it was ridiculously childish, in the end I had to call myself a faggot, which really annoyed me, because 1. I don’t think that word should ever be used by anyone, let alone me, and 2. As it happens, I am not gay, and furthermore, 3. Chuck Parson made it out like calling yourself a faggot was the ultimate humiliation, even though there’s nothing at all embarrassing about being gay, which I was trying to say while he twisted my arm farther and farther toward my shoulder blade, but he just kept saying, “If you’re so proud of being a faggot, why don’t you admit that you’re a faggot, faggot?”

Clearly, Chuck Parson was no Aristotle when it came to logic. But he was six three, and 270 pounds, which counts for something.

“You could make a case for Chuck,” I acknowledged. And then I turned on the car and started to make my way back toward the interstate. I didn’t know where we were going, but we sure as hell weren’t staying downtown.

“Remember at the Crown School of Dance?” she asked. “I was just thinking about that tonight.”

“Ugh. Yeah.”

“I’m sorry about that, by the way. I have no idea why I went along with him.”

“Yeah. It’s all good,” I said, but remembering the godforsaken Crown School of Dance pissed me off, and I said, “Yeah. Chuck Parson. You know where he lives?”

“I knew I could bring out your vengeful side. He’s in College Park. Get off at Princeton.” I turned onto the interstate entrance ramp and floored it. “Whoa there,” Margo said. “Don’t break the Chrysler.”

 

In sixth grade, a bunch of kids including Margo and Chuck and me were forced by our parents to take ballroom dancing lessons at the Crown School of Humiliation, Degradation, and Dance. And how it worked was the boys would stand on one side and the girls would stand on the other and then when the teacher told us to, the boys would walk over to the girls and the boy would say, “May I have this dance?” and the girl would say, “You may.” Girls were not allowed to say no. But then one day — we were doing the fox-trot — Chuck Parson convinced every single girl to say no to me. Not anyone else. Just me. So I walked across to Mary Beth Shortz and I said, “May I have this dance?” and she said no. And then I asked another girl, and then another, and then Margo, who also said no, and then another, and then I started to cry.

The only thing worse than getting rejected at dance school is crying about getting rejected at dance school, and the only thing worse than that is going to the dance teacher and saying through your tears, “The girls are saying no to me and they’re not supposedtuh .” So of course I went weeping to the teacher, and I spent the majority of middle school trying to live down that one embarrassing event. So, long story short, Chuck Parson kept me from ever dancing the fox-trot, which doesn’t seem like a particularly horrible thing to do to a sixth-grader. And I wasn’t really pissed about it anymore, or about everything else he’d done to me over the years. But I certainly wasn’t going to lament his suffering.

“Wait, he won’t know it’s me, will he?”

“Nope. Why?”

“I don’t want him to think I give enough of a shit about him to hurt him.” I put a hand down on the center console and Margo patted it. “Don’t worry,” she said. “He’ll never know what depilatated him.”

“I think you just misused a word, but I don’t know what it means.”

“I know a word you don’t know,” Margo chanted. “I’M THE NEW QUEEN OF VOCABULARY! I’VE USURPED YOU!”

“Spell usurped ,” I told her.

“No,” she answered, laughing. “I’m not giving up my crown over usurped . You’ll have to do better.”

“Fine.” I smiled.

 

We drove through College Park, a neighborhood that passes for Orlando’s historic district on account of how the houses were mostly built thirty whole years ago. Margo couldn’t remember Chuck’s exact address, or what his house looked like, or even for sure what street it was on (“I’m almost like ninety-five percent positive it’s on Vassar.”). Finally, after the Chrysler had prowled three blocks of Vassar Street, Margo pointed to her left and said, “That one.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“I’m like ninety-seven-point-two percent sure. I mean, I’m pretty sure his bedroom is right there,” she said, pointing. “One time he had a party, and when the cops came I shimmied out his window. I’m pretty sure it’s the same window.”

“This seems like we could get in trouble.”

“But if the window is open, there’s no breaking involved. Only entering. And we just did entering at the SunTrust, and it wasn’t that big of a deal, right?”

I laughed. “It’s like you’re turning me into a badass.”

“That’s the idea. Okay, supplies: get the Veet, the spray paint, and the Vaseline.”

“Okay.” I grabbed them.

“Now don’t freak out on me, Q. The good news is that Chuck sleeps like a hibernating bear — I know because I had English with him last year and he wouldn’t wake up even when Ms. Johnston swatted him with Jane Eyre . So we’re going to go up to his bedroom window, we’re gonna open it, we’re gonna take off our shoes, and then very quietly go inside, and I’m going to screw with Chuck. Then you and I are going to fan out to opposite sides of the house, and we’re going to cover every door handle in Vaseline, so even if someone wakes up, they’ll have a hella hard time getting out of the house in time to catch us. Then we’ll screw with Chuck some more, paint his house a little, and we’re out of there. And no talking.”

I put my hand to my jugular, but I was smiling.

 

We were walking away from the car together when Margo reached down for my hand, laced her fingers in mine, and squeezed. I squeezed back and then glanced at her. She nodded her head solemnly, and I nodded back, and then she let go of my hand. We scampered up to the window. I gently pushed the wooden casing up. It squeaked ever so quietly but opened in one motion. I looked in. It was dark, but I could see a body in a bed.

The window was a little high for Margo, so I put my hands together and she stepped a socked foot onto my hand and I boosted her up. Her silent entrance into the house would have made a ninja jealous. I proceeded to jump up, get my head and shoulders into the window, and then attempt, via a complicated torso undulation, to dance the caterpillar into the house. That might have worked fine except I racked my balls against the windowsill, which hurt so bad that I groaned, which was a pretty sizable mistake.

A bedside light came on. And there, lying in bed, was some old guy — decidedly not Chuck Parson. His eyes were wide with terror; he didn’t say a thing.

“Um,” said Margo. I thought about shoving off and running back to the car, but for Margo’s sake I stayed there, the top half of me in the house, parallel to the floor. “Um, I think we have the wrong house.” She turned around then and looked at me urgently, and only then did I realize I was blocking Margo’s exit. So I pushed myself back out the window, grabbed my shoes, and took off.

We drove to the other side of College Park to regroup.

“I think we share the blame on that one,” Margo said.

“Um, you picked the wrong house ,” I said.

“Right, but you were the one who made noise.” It was quiet for a minute, and we were just driving in circles, and then finally I said, “We could probably get his address off the Internet. Radar has a log-in to the school directory.”

“Brilliant,” Margo said.

So I called Radar, but his phone went straight to voice mail. I contemplated calling his house, but his parents were friends with my parents, so that wouldn’t work. Finally, it occurred to me to call Ben. He wasn’t Radar, but he did know all of Radar’s passwords. I called. It went to voice mail, but only after ringing. So I called again. Voice mail. I called again. Voice mail. Margo said, “He’s obviously not answering,” and as I dialed again, I said, “Oh, he’ll answer.” And after just four more calls, he did.

“You’d better be calling me to say that there are eleven naked honeybunnies in your house, and that they’re asking for the Special Feeling that only Big Daddy Ben can provide.”

“I need you to use Radar’s login to the student directory and look up an address. Chuck Parson.”

“No.”

“Please,” I said.

“No.”

“You’ll be glad you did this, Ben. I promise.”

“Yeah, yeah, I just did it. I was doing it while saying no — can’t help but help. Four-two-two Amherst. Hey, why do you want Chuck Parson’s address at four-twelve in the morning?”

“Get some sleep, Benners.”

“I’m going to assume this is a dream,” Ben answered, and hung up.

 

Amherst was only a couple blocks down. We parked on the street in front of 418 Amherst, got our supplies together, and jogged across Chuck’s lawn, the morning dew shaking off the grass and onto my calves.

At his window, which was fortunately lower than that of Random Old Guy, I climbed in quietly and then pulled Margo up and in. Chuck Parson was asleep on his back. Margo walked over to him, tiptoeing, and I stood behind her, my heart pounding. He’d kill us both if he woke up. She pulled out the Veet, sprayed a dob of what looked like shaving cream onto her palm, and then softly and carefully spread it across Chuck’s right eyebrow. He didn’t so much as twitch.

Then she opened the Vaseline — the lid made what seemed like a deafeningly loud clorp , but again Chuck showed no sign of waking. She scooped a huge gob of it into my hand, and then we headed off to opposite sides of the house. I went to the entryway first and slathered Vaseline on the front door’s doorknob, and then to the open door of a bedroom, where I Vaselined the inner knob and then quietly, with only the slightest creak, shut the door to the room.

Finally I returned to Chuck’s room — Margo was already there — and together we closed his door and then Vaselined the hell out of Chuck’s doorknob. We slathered every surface of his bedroom window with the rest of the Vaseline, hoping it would make it hard to open the window after we closed it shut on our way out.

Margo glanced at her watch and held up two fingers. We waited. And for those two minutes we just stared at each other, and I watched the blue in her eyes. It was nice — in the dark and the quiet, with no possibility of me saying anything to screw it up, and her eyes looking back, like there was something in me worth seeing.

Margo nodded then, and I walked over to Chuck. I wrapped my hand in my T-shirt, as she’d told me to do, leaned forward, and — as softly as I could — pressed my finger against his forehead and then quickly wiped away the Veet. With it came every last hair that had been Chuck Parson’s right eyebrow. I was standing above Chuck with his right eyebrow on my T-shirt when his eyes shot open. Lightning fast, Margo grabbed his comforter and threw it over him, and when I looked up, the little ninja was already out the window. I followed as quickly as I could, as Chuck screamed, “MAMA! DAD! ROBBERY ROBBERY!”

I wanted to say, The only thing we stole was your eyebrow, but I kept mum as I swung myself feetfirst out the window. I damn near landed on Margo, who was spray-painting an M onto the vinyl siding of Chuck’s house, and then we both grabbed our shoes and hauled ass to the minivan. When I looked back at the house, lights were on but no one was outside yet, a testament to the brilliant simplicity of the well-Vaselined doorknob. By the time Mr. (or possibly Mrs., I couldn’t really see) Parson pulled open the living room curtains and looked outside, we were driving in reverse back toward Princeton Street and the interstate.

“Yes!” I shouted. “God, that was brilliant.”

“Did you see it? His face without the eyebrow? He looks permanently doubtful, you know? Like, ‘oh, really? You’re saying I only have one eyebrow? Likely story.’ And I love making that asshole choose: better to shave off Lefty, or paint on Righty? Oh, I just love it. And how he yelled for his mama, that sniveling little shit.”

“Wait, why do you hate him?”

“I didn’t say I hated him. I said he was a sniveling little shit.”

“But you were always kind of friends with him,” I said, or at least I thought she had been.

“Yeah, well, I was always kind of friends with a lot of people,” she said. Margo leaned across the minivan and put her head on my bony shoulder, her hair falling against my neck. “I’m tired,” she said.

“Caffeine,” I said. She reached into the back and grabbed us each a Mountain Dew, and I drank it in two long chugs.

“So we’re going to SeaWorld,” she told me. “Part Eleven.”

“What, are we going to Free Willy or something?”

“No,” she said. “We’re just going to go to SeaWorld, that’s all. It’s the only theme park I haven’t broken into yet.”

“We can’t break into SeaWorld,” I said, and then I pulled over into an empty furniture store parking lot and turned off the car.

“We’re in a bit of a time crunch,” she told me, and then reached over to start the car again.

I pushed her hand away. “We can’t break into SeaWorld,” I repeated.

“There you go with the breaking again.” Margo paused and opened another Mountain Dew. Light reflected off the can onto her face, and for a second I could see her smiling at the thing she was about to say. “We’re not going to break anything. Don’t think of it as breaking in to SeaWorld. Think of it as visiting SeaWorld in the middle of the night for free.”

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