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Authors: Michael Harmon

Brutal

BOOK: Brutal
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For
Sydney and Dylan

This novel was written for all teenagers out there who have the
courage to stand up for something they believe to be true, and
the willingness to overcome mistakes made in trying to make a
difference in this world. It's also for the parents, teachers, and
administrators who listen to them.

Chapter One

If I'd known I'd be living in Benders Hollow, California, when I
was sixteen, I would have traded back every complaint I had about my life for a bus ticket out of this place. No can do, though. I'm stuck here for a year. Then I'll be gone, back to Los Angeles and on my own.

I met Benders Hollow four minutes ago via a Grey hound bus because my mom, Dr. Nancy M. Holly, decided her “path” didn't include being a mom anymore. As I stepped on the bus to come here, she stepped on a private chartered jet, headed to some South American jungle village to help “world citizens” lance boils and disinfect festering monkey bites. All so she could come back and tell her doctor friends how she helped the underprivileged peons she looks down her long nose at.

Not that I'm complaining. At this point I don't care if I see her until I get a monkey bite. I get in the way of her life, and we're like gunpowder and lightning together. First it was two weeks in Syria helping refugees. She missed my seventh-grade graduation for that one. Then it was a month in Africa. Scratch my fifteenth birthday for that trip, but
add a purple Mohawk to greet her when she got back. Sometimes spite tastes sweet, and she refused to take me to any of her “functions” because it's not who you are, it's what you look like, and until I looked normal, I was out of the loop. Damn, no more jumbo shrimp cocktail and old pervert doctors ogling my ass.

Now it's a year in South America. I don't even know what country. I didn't ask.

Not that her being gone is much different from her being here, because even when she's here, she's gone. What ever. My mom is saving the world one person at a time, she likes to say. I like to ask her how it feels to think you're a god. She rolls her eyes and walks away.

I'm in a no-win situation, though, and I know it. Poor disaffected me. We're rich. I've been quietly “transferred” out of three high-end private schools due to my inability to follow stupid rules. My last school counselor asked me how I could possibly complain about having such a great life and wonderful mother. Yeah, everybody loves her, and she loves everybody loving her. For such a stupid and lame question, I started crying before I got pissed about it. My mom cares more about strangers than about me.

She saves lives and that's good, and I love her because she's not always as selfish and egotistical as it seems, but it ends with the one thing more important than her status. Money. I asked her how many families she put through bankruptcy while she was saving their lives and she didn't speak to me for a week.

Anyway, now she's working as a surgeon in remote parts of a jungle where her daughter isn't, and I'm in Benders Hollow to meet my father for the first time because
she wouldn't let me stay home alone. It's not like I haven't taken care of myself since I was ten, and it's not like he has. I can order out. I know how to use a toaster. Big deal. No different from when she's in town.

My mom likes telling me I'm spoiled. I'm a rich kid stuck in a not-rich-kid mind. She says I am who I am because I'm reactionary to her perfectness. But I'm not. I fit nowhere in her life, and the embarrassment I see in her face and the way she falters and casts her eyes away when she introduces me to “colleagues” makes me want to vomit on her four-hundred-dollar shoes. But I know who I am. I'm Poe Holly, and I'm pissed off.

“Poe?”

I recognized him from a picture I saw once, but more than that, I recognized his voice. I'd talked to him a few times before. Once at Christmas when I was ten, another time on my birthday, and then after I'd been caught drinking last year in the locker room of my last private school. My mother's daughter doesn't get suspended. It was decided Oak Grove Preparatory School was not good enough for me.

I saw the resemblance in his eyes. The color of flagstone, just like mine. Other than that, he was totally and completely average. He could be any Joe Schmoe walking down the street in a small town: slim build, beige jeans, and a tucked in slate green short-sleeved polo shirt. Every woman's dream if her dream was bland: he was about as clean-cut and boring as you could be. The only thing cool about him was that he wasn't wearing an article of clothing worth over fifty dollars. Maybe we'd get along.

His hair was cut ultra-conservative, dark brown like
mine if I didn't dye it black, and he was clean-shaven and looked older than I had imagined. I knew he was thirty-five, but his face was a bit drawn and the shade under his eyes reminded me of a person who read too much. He smiled, standing with his hands in his pockets. I could tell he was nervous. I stepped toward him. “Hi.”

He nodded, shifting his feet. “Hello.”

We stood there, me in my punk getup and him looking completely forgettable with his loafers and neatly parted hair. I hitched my bag on my shoulder, wondering if this had been a good idea. “You're not holding a sign.”

He blinked, then furrowed his brow.

“A sign. Like at an airport. It's supposed to say my name. Poe Holly. So I don't miss you in the crowd.”

He brightened, then smiled, looking around the vacant sidewalk. “Nobody else got off at this stop.”

“I was the only one
on
the bus. I take it the usual tourists don't come by Greyhound.”

He laughed. “Benders Hollow isn't Los Angeles, and no, they don't.”

I looked around, taking in the touristy setting. Mom had offered to have a limo bring me up. “Seven hours on a bus?” she'd said. “Poe …” Blah blah blah. I sighed. “Well, I'm here.”

He held his hand out. “Let me take your bag.” He took it, then looked to the bus idling at the curb. “Any more baggage?”

“Mom wouldn't fit in a suitcase.”

He smiled, but a darkness passed through his eyes. Then he slung the huge thing over his back and we walked down the street. “That's why I like it.”

“Like what?”

“Benders Hollow.”

I looked around. It looked like a small town to me, all right. “Why?”

He chuckled, but barely loud enough to hear. “Because it's not Los Angeles.”

• • •

We reached his car, a late-model maroon Volvo, and the first thing that struck me was what wasn't in it. Not a dust particle on the dash, a smudge on a window, or an errant leaf on the floor. No papers, wrappers, coffee cups, or trinkets. No change in the tray. Immaculate. Just like my mother. I groaned.

We drove through a few blocks of gift and wine shops with old-fashioned lampposts studding the strip and pruned trees lining the way, with banners celebrating a wine festival fluttering in the breeze. I sighed. The streets were just like my dad. Pristine. No dirty windows, garbage, grime, homeless people, or pollution. There weren't even leaves in the gutters. The place was so sterile I was afraid to breathe.

Past the shopping area, he took a quick right down a street called Mulberry Lane. Maple trees lined the road, and the houses were big and old and nice. There's money here, and it showed. Before I left, I asked Mom what it was like, and she told me she'd never been here, so she couldn't say. She refused to say any more, other than it fit my father to a tee. She was right. He fit Benders Hollow like a surgical glove, and I wondered for a moment why they hadn't stayed together.

Five houses down Mulberry Lane, he turned into a driveway and my assumption was that this was home.

Unless he occasionally parked in other people's driveways. Great. I lived on Mulberry Lane. Next thing I knew, I'd be wearing pigtails and skipping rope down the sidewalk. The house was nice, though, with peaked roofs and a big porch up front shaded with an awning, perfect paint, green trimmed lawn, and a doorbell, which, surprisingly, had a tiny note attached to it.
Out of order. Please knock.

The whole town reminded me of a
Saturday Evening Post
picture. American culture at its best as long as you didn't turn the page or look deeper than the last brush stroke. Wine sniffers. Ugh. I'd traded one pretentious hellhole for another, but unlike back home, there were no raves, concerts, noise, or friends. We sat in the car. “What did she say?”

He cut the engine and sat for a moment. I got the feeling he'd enjoyed the silence of our little trip. He stared out the windshield. “About what?”

“Me. I know you guys talked.”

“We did, but not much.”

“The last time Mom didn't say much was when Dr. Paulson broke her jaw playing racquetball.”

He cocked an eye at me.

“Old boyfriend.” I smiled. “A match made in heaven. He got his hair cut every two weeks, subscribed to
Golf Digest,
and read the
Wall Street Journal.
An all-around presentable specimen to be seen with her.”

Silence.

I shifted in my seat. “That was a joke.”

He tapped the steering wheel absently, something going through his head. “I'm afraid I don't know very much of your life, Poe.”

“Nervous?”

He sighed. “Yes. I am.” He looked at me. “Are you?”

“A tiny bit. And I don't know
anything
about your life, so we're even.”

He nodded, then smiled. “Your mother said that you were having a difficult time adjusting to being a teenager.”

“I blame things on other people sometimes, too.”

I caught a look on his face out of the corner of my eye, but I couldn't tell what it meant. Not a smile. He nodded. “She didn't speak in those terms to me, if that's what you're wondering. She's proud of you.”

I let that one slide.

He shook his head, flustered, not knowing what to do. “I didn't want you to come here expecting this to be enemy territory. I don't think ill of her.”

I looked out the window at the tidy house. “I know exactly why I'm here.”

“Well, I don't, and I'm not going to judge, okay?”

I smiled. “I will for you, then.”

He smiled at that one. “Come on, I'll show you inside.”

“I think I'll sit outside for a minute.”

He exhaled, then nodded. “Sure. Come on in whenever.”

The truth was that I wasn't a bit nervous, I was really nervous. I didn't want to go inside. I didn't want to be here. He seemed nice enough, but it was just so strange. Familiar, but not familiar. He was my
dad,
but Poe Holly didn't have a dad. Poe Holly was the outcome of a sperm donor program called Poor Choices and Bad Mistakes. They'd been married, yes, but for how long I didn't know. Mom never talked about it.

Chapter Two

I sat on the steps of the porch wondering what I should call
him. His name was David, but he was also my dad and I figured “hey you” wouldn't do, so I decided to avoid calling him anything. He seemed so white-bread. Homogenized and a total conformist, which was so not me it was funny. This whole place already seemed boring, and if anything, it grated against my whole counterculture being like a chain saw cutting cheese.

I'm a singer. Music is my life. From the Ramones to the Sex Pistols to The Doors to modern-day metal and pop punk like Blink-182, I loved any song that held power. I bled guitar riffs and breathed to sing, and more than anything, I missed my band back home, October Rose. My buds. The guys I hung with at Venice Beach and played with in the warehouse next to Chang's deli off the boulevard.

Los Angeles is noisy and full. Traffic and horns and planes and helicopters and millions of people and billions of machines and everything that made me feel comfortable. Back home, we lived in a posh part of LA that was half an
hour from Venice, which just happened to be the place Jim Morrison from The Doors lived and wrote his brilliance before dying. Venice was the place you could hang out and be a part of something great.

Now, I looked around this neighborhood and didn't see a thing. Just a bunch of frozen perfect houses with nice lawns and picket fences. A place I didn't, and wouldn't, fit into. I held my breath for half a minute and didn't even hear a bird chirp. I'd be insane in three days.

BOOK: Brutal
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ads

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