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That Awkward Age

 


chapter one


B
E
R
N
A
R
D

Hi, it’s me again. Bernie? From the last book?

Maybe you know me better from all those newscasts they’ve been showing where I’m part of a criminal gang of mental patients who escaped and burned down the hospital a few nights ago. I don’t want to be argumentative or anything, I mean if it’s on the news it’s got to be true, but we’re really not. Criminals, I mean. Although I do feel kinda bad about the hospital part.

And I feel real bad about Trashman. We all do. Max says it was necessary for him to stay in the building to destroy our records. But it doesn’t make sense to me. Then again, without my medication, what does?

In the good ol’ days, (almost 72 hours ago), I could count on my electric razor or Darcy’s dragon tattoo to help explain stuff. But now nobody’s talking. Well, nobody but people and, of course, all those patterns.

I still see them, the patterns I mean. I can’t paint them like I did back in my room which, like I said, kinda burned down. But I still see them. Everywhere. Like those cars down there on the freeway. See that big semi coming towards us in the left lane? And the two little compacts in the lane beside it, one near its front and the other near its back? And the blue mini-van in the next lane over, between them? See how they make the perfect letter, “D?”

I’ve been wedged under this overpass making up words all morning. Actually, it’s only been one word so far. That’s because it keeps showing up over and over again, which is pretty coincidental which, for me, is pretty normal. Anyways, the view up here is terrific. Saffron and JJ, the homeless couple that took us in, their camp is just on the other side of that giant, cement bulkhead. It’s a great place, out of sight from the freeway traffic which is good since we’re sort of celebrities now, with our faces on the news and everyone trying to arrest us. So we really appreciate them letting us stay.

JJ got real nice about it last night when we were gathered around the little fire on our plastic milk crates and wooden fruit boxes – except for Saffron who rocked back and forth in the rocker she borrowed from a local furniture store who’d left their back door unlocked. She’d really fixed up the place and even had wall-to-wall carpeting here and there from carpet samples some floor store threw away. She also had a knack for landscaping – particularly with that nice, little Christmas tree bush a few yards down from camp. How anything could grow in the cement and packed dirt is beyond me, but there it was, four feet tall and almost as round, with Christmas tree lights that didn’t work and beautiful silver and gold garland. Lots and lots of garland. But I digress, which you may remember from the last book, I do a lot of.

“Ain’t no deal you stayin’ with us,” JJ said. He threw his arm around Max and offered him a drink of his fortified wine. “Hospitalessness, it’s ‘cactly like homelessness . . . ‘cept for a few letters here an’ there.”

Max nodded with that smile of his but politely refused the bottle.

No one’s sure why JJ suddenly got so friendly. Joey thinks it has something to do with his romantic interests in Darcy. Ralphy thinks it’s more to do with the napkins JJ stole from McDonalds. The ones he’s having us autograph so he can sell them on the street. Besides his fortified wine, JJ likes his money.

And Saffron? She doesn’t mind us staying either, just as long as we do our share of dumpster diving for food and keep the camp nice and tidy. And we do, well except for Winona who’s always throwing up. As a health nut she doesn’t do well surrounded by flesh eating bacteria and your everyday infectious diseases. She’s also not fond of the smell of stale urine. Luckily, the exhaust fumes usually cover that up.

So, all in all, we’re doing really good . . . except for being on the run from the police and everyone saying we’re crazy. Of course Max keeps saying we’re not and I wish it was true, but it’s kind of hard believing him when . . .


Ralphy still thinks he’s a superhero (and wears the goggles, shower cap and bath towel cape to prove it).
Winona is still sure she’s an alien visiting from another planet (where they don’t have flesh eating bacteria or stale urine).
Darcy is still afraid of electricity and still threatens to set sleeping people on fire who flirt with her (which explains why JJ sleeps with a fire extinguisher).
Joey is still our resident genius, except for the part of believing the world is flat.
Nelson is still our walking encyclopedia.
Chloe is still shy and super sweet. She still blurts out things that don’t make sense (until later, when no one is paying attention). Well, no one but me. I pay attention to everything she does though, of course, I don’t let on.

So, with all our unique personalities, you can see why it’s hard to believe Max when he says were not nuts. But there is one thing we do believe. . . Each of us is God’s favorite child. After all, that’s what the fortune cookies told us, and why would fortune cookies lie?

Oh, and there are the dreams. I know they’re weird and Dr. Aadil would probably say it’s mass hysteria or something, but everyone of us has had some sort of dream where Trashman breathes on us, or kisses us, or gives us mouth to mouth resuscitation – just like he did with Max and Chloe.

“Hey, Dough Face!”

I turned to see Saffron rounding the cement wall and stalking towards me. For the briefest second I caught a glimpse of her robe, the one covered in diamonds and emeralds that she doesn’t like me to talk about since it’s just my craziness.

“What the (insert expletive here) you doin’, you stupid (insert another expletive).”

Saffron likes her expletives.

I scooted down the steep concrete bank until I could stand. “Good morning, your highness.”

“Stop callin’ me that! What you doin’ here?”

I shrugged. “Freeway Scrabble.”

She shouted something I couldn’t quite make out over a belching truck.

I glanced down at the freeway and quickly pointed. “Look! See the middle lane? See the car being tailgated by the other two, and then the space, and then that little Volkswagen adding the dot? See how it makes the letter ‘i’?”

She started to look then caught herself. “Get the (expletive) out of sight. If you see the (expletive) cars, they can see you!” She turned and without another word, or expletive, headed back toward camp.

I followed. “Sorry,” I said.”

“(Expletive! Expletive!)” she said.

Then, just before we rounded the wall, I glanced down at the freeway one last time. Sure enough, there it was again. A long eighteen wheeler in the left lane with two cars, side by side in the next two lanes at its back, two more cars, side by side, at its middle, and two more at its top. Together, just like they had so many times before, they made the final letter . . . a perfect, capital “E”.