It’s my turn to host an extract of ‘Blue Running’ by Lori Ann Stephens.
Huge thanks to Lori, Midas PR and Moonflower Books for having me involved in the blog tour for this brilliant, thought-provoking YA novel.
I once had a mother who loved me.
“She just didn’t love you enough,” Daw liked to say. He’d sniff and smirk like a father does when he’s confronted with the mysterious eyes of his fourteen-year-old daughter. Then he’d crush his beer can under his boot. That was the start and the end of any conversation about my mother.
She didn’t love you enough. The crush of aluminum. The smell of warm beer.
She left us before the Wall, so I fashioned a memory of her from other things that were too delicate and expensive for me and Daw to have. Her eyes were flecks of gold, her laugh wind chimes. Then, when I was in third grade, I stumbled on an old photograph in Daw’s drawer and I didn’t have to imagine anymore. Instead of finding a clean pair of socks, I’d dug up a pretty blonde woman in a white robe. I suspected it was my mother right away. She was laughing, and her bare knees peeked out from the robe as she leaned sideways. I wondered if she was naked underneath. I wondered if Daw had taken the snapshot. Had Daw ever been funny enough to make a woman laugh? I traced her cheek with my finger. I’d never laughed that hard or looked that pretty. It seemed impossible that I could be related to her. But on the back of the photo was my mother’s name: Marla. I slid my finger over her smooth hair, then tucked the photograph back into Daw’s dresser. Even at eight I knew she was Daw’s secret, not mine.
I didn’t hate her for leaving us, but I did wish Marla had hung around long enough to tell me how to be. I’d spent my entire life in Blessing, but I never felt like a Blessing girl. My hair was never long-long, never seemed to grow past my shoulders no matter how long I let it grow. I didn’t have sleep-over friends, and I wasn’t good at skeet shooting or cheerleading. I didn’t know how to laugh that way girls did, and make the boys want to inch closer and rub their shoulders. I didn’t want boys to rub me anywhere.
When we were younger, kids who were lucky enough to have birthday parties invited everyone in class. That was the only polite thing to do. I’d been to some of these gatherings, seen the insides of a few houses. Those smells in other houses – clean laundry, warm pecan pies, vanilla candles, musky-sweet cat fur – were secrets I took home with me, all of them a comfort that life could be better. Eventually though, we got old enough to throw politeness to the wind and only invited our real friends to birthdays.
I was short and flat-chested and my dad was a drunk. I hadn’t been to a party in three years.
Then, the year I turned fourteen, Maggie Wisdom moved to Blessing. She wasn’t like the rest of us. Her clothes were too fancy and her heels were too high. She talked too fast and she didn’t wear boots. I was the only one who sat beside her on her first day of school and found out she was from Austin, which explained practically everything. On the bus home, I found out her daddy was rich. They were the ones who’d built the mansion at the top of the hill.
I had her for the whole summer. For three months, people stopped talking about Blue’s drunk daddy and Blue’s ugly clothes because they were talking about Maggie, who’d somehow charmed the whole of Blessing with her money and her camera-flash teeth and her talent for singing like an angel and skeet shooting like the devil. For the first time, I was almost normal.
Then high school started, and the Pretty Ones patted a stool at lunch and Maggie sat down at the far end of the cafeteria. She fit right in with them. Maggie stopped sitting with me and things went back to the way they used to be.
It was almost as if Maggie and I hadn’t ever gone on bike rides that lasted all day, hadn’t freed the squirrel from the mouse trap, hadn’t drawn tattoos on each other’s wrists with permanent marker. Almost as if I’d imagined she was my best friend.
That September, during the first weeks of high school, I found myself hopelessly lost in the wrong wing of the school, in real life and in my nightmares. Everyone was so tall and the halls were so wide. Between classes, I trailed behind strangers who laughed and teased and jostled each other, all of us wading our way to the next class. Swept by a strange desperation, I once laughed with a group of older girls in front of me like I belonged to them, until one of them turned around and smirked, “Why are you laughing, girl?” I shrugged and ducked away, my cheeks hot with shame.
In the cafeteria one day, I opened my lunch bag and stared at the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Wrinkly apple. Broken cookies. I missed Maggie’s lunches. Trading my broken cookies for her Babybel cheese wheels because her mom didn’t buy sugar treats and my Daw didn’t buy fancy cheese. I loved to pull that white tab across the red wax, which opened up like a perfect little present each time. But Maggie was with the Pretty Ones now.
The end of the day was no better. The Armory line was clogged up again because somebody’s cartridge was missing.
“I’ve told y’all before,” the Armory Secretary yelled. “Have your IDs out and get in a straight line. Y’all won’t get home till five if you don’t get lined up right. I swear to God.”
The freshmen weren’t used to the checkout process, so it took us longer than the sophomores to get holstered and out the doors. Most of us carried hand-me-down guns from older brothers and sisters, but I was an only child and Daw was the only deputy, so I got his old police-issue Glock. It was too big for my hands and too damn heavy, but it shot straight.