No Direction by Edward Lee

Friday, September 3, 2021
Teenager Audrey can't help getting in trouble, and her privileged friend Nikki is no help at all; by Edward Lee.

In her guidance counselor's cramped office, Audrey sat looking at a desk, which had a framed picture, its stand folded out, the picture privately facing away from her. Next to the picture was a brown paper bag smelling of apples and citrus in the warm afternoon.

The guidance counselor came in, a woman with frizzy hair, spectacles, and large expressive eyes. She sat at the desk and looked at Audrey, then at the paper in front of her: "Audrey, this is the third time you've been in my office this month. Care to explain this latest incident?" she said putting the paper down.

"Tiffany started it by sayin' things I can't repeat here."

"Okay, but does that give you the right to pull her hair and punch her in the stomach?"

"She shouldn't have talked like a little bitch."

"Language, Audrey. Mind your language."

"Sorry, Ms. Gretchen."

"Alright, we asked your mother to come in. Where is she?"

"She's busy."

"Busy with what?"

"Work."

And the father isn't around, Amy Gretchen knew from her history with Audrey. She decided to be lenient. "Alright, Audrey, as long as you apologize to Tiffany and promise me you'll behave and won't be in my office again, I won't suspend you."

"I ain't apologizin' to nobody. You can suspend me. I don't care."

"Audrey, you've already missed two weeks of school from past suspensions this year. If I suspend you again, you'll miss another week. That would be three suspensions, and if you're suspended again after that, four is the school's limit, you'll be expelled."

"Nobody cares. This school sucks anyway."

Amy leaned forward on her desk. "Audrey, tell me what's wrong? What's really bothering you?"

Audrey looked out the window at a point in the distance. She refused to talk. Amy had no choice but to suspend her.

Audrey walked home from school. She walked past the park, and area of apartment buildings around it, to where it became less urban, quieter, where single family houses lined the streets. Farther down, it became more derelict with empty lots, and uneven street blocks so narrow Audrey felt the cars blow by. There were houses that had boarded windows, other houses that were slightly slanted. Audrey kept walking past until she met a dead end, where it just became trees and brush. Her house was right at the edge of the last street. Two stories high, the house was the tallest on the block. It was newly painted, something Audrey thought was pathetic. She could hear loud party music coming from inside. Audrey got out her keys and opened the three locks on the door. Her mother always locked the doors and windows. She went inside the hall, which was part of the living room, and saw her mother dancing between two younger men. A disco ball spun around flashing multicolored lights at a few strangers sitting around the dinner table, drinking from beer bottles. Audrey, barely noticed by anyone, went upstairs to her room.

Audrey sat by her dresser mirror. She patiently waited until the music stopped. She heard footsteps and laughing, the door shutting to her mother's room. There was more laughing and there were groans accompanied by a rocking sound.

Afterwards, the men paid and said their goodbyes at the door. Her mother flirted and told them to come back. Audrey's mother shut the door and came up the stairs. She opened the door to Audrey's room without knocking. Standing in the doorway, she said, "Why aren't you at school?"

"Don't you remember, Mom?"

"Remember what?"

"I fought with a girl. I got suspended for it."

Audrey's mother shook her head and said, "You're just like your father. Always fighting with people. That stupid, dumb fuck. You're just like him."

Audrey ignored her mother's insults. Her mother came in the room and picked things up and put them in incongruent places, Audrey's school bag on the bed, shoes on a table, books right in front of her at the mirror. "You even look like him," her mother said, suddenly looking away.

Audrey wished she looked like her mother, so she wouldn't have to always hear this. Her mother picked up a brush and smoothed Audrey's hair. "Lose some weight, while you're suspended."

"I will, Mom."

"Good," she said. "Do your homework."

"But why?"

"Always talking back," she dropped the brush on top of the books. She stared at Audrey through the mirror. Audrey stared back for a while and then looked away. A horn blare blew persistently outside. Her mother went to the window. "It's him," she said excited, and ran out of the room.

Audrey, by the window, looked at her mother get inside the SUV. The car drove away up the road and took a left out of Audrey's sight. She wondered when her mother would come back, a few hours, a day, or more. Sometimes, she wondered if her mom even cared. Audrey went downstairs and drank the dregs of the beer bottles, pouring the liquor out into little cups. Her phone rang, and Nikki's name appeared on the screen.

"Yo, so what's up? You heard? I got suspended," Audrey said.

"Yeah, for beating up that little snitch Tiffany. I hate that bitch. So, where you at?"

"I'm at home. Where you at?"

"I'm in my car."

"Come over."

"All right, but there's this little bitch I need to teach a lesson to. You want to come with me and beat this girl up?"

"Fine, who is it, though?"

"You know that girl Lisa?"

"Yeah."

"She spray-painted shit on my boyfriend's car."

"Damn."

"Damn is right. Come out in a few, so I don't have to wait when I get there."

Ten minutes later, Nikki's glossy black Nissan was outside. Audrey got in. Nikki drove complaining about the terrible roads around Audrey's neighborhood. Audrey knew Nikki's neighborhood was very different. It was where the rich people lived in suburbs with paved roads, where wheels rolled smoothly on new asphalt. Audrey wasn't jealous of her, but she knew Nikki was better than she was. Her parents had gone to college and had advanced degrees. Nikki could act well brought-up and lady-like. But she still hung out with Audrey because Nikki liked to act like she was from the wrong side of the tracks. And she was pretty good at it. So, she could hang out with honor students, and pivot to troublemakers like Audrey on a dime. Nikki liked to slum, Audrey thought, especially when she was in a bad mood and needed to blow off some steam like the present situation.

Driving out of Audrey's neighborhood, Nikki got on a thoroughfare and drove up a boulevard that steadily became upper middle-class; a movie theater, cafes, a Starbucks, and restaurants. Nikki turned off the boulevard and into a suburban enclave. They drove around until Nikki found the house she was looking for. They got out of the car. The front of the house had long stairs leading to the front door. There were antique Oriental vases in the window on display, dying to be stolen, Audrey thought. Nikki made a call, and said, "Lisa, I'm outside your house. Are your parents home? Well, can you come out then? I need to tell you something in person."

A minute later the front door opened, and a tall long-haired girl came out and walked down the stairs. She seemed curious about seeing Nikki and Audrey. She was wearing bunny slippers, and sweatpants and shirt. She was stupid looking, but pretty.

Nikki stormed up to her. "You bitch," she said and punched her. Audrey from behind got the girl in a chokehold and pulled her down. The two of them started beating her until she became absolutely still. Nikki kicked her one last time. Audrey spat on her. Nikki and Audrey took a selfie of themselves with the girl lying on the pavement. They then quickly got in the car and drove away laughing.

They went to Audrey's house, and met up there with some guys, smoked weed, and made out with the guys, Terence and Russell. Nikki had sex with Terence. Audrey didn't really like Russell that much, so they just talked. After getting what he came for, Terence promised to call Nikki, then he left with Russell, who kissed Audrey goodbye at the door. Nikki made fun of Terence's sexual endowments as soon as he left. Audrey laughed. Nikki walked to the kitchen, opened the fridge, and took out a Michelob. She stuck around and watched TV, sitting on the floor with her legs pulled in, the bottle at her side. Nikki got bored and complained about there not being cable channels, so looked at her phone, while taking swigs. She was unwilling to leave, for some reason, and stayed until her mom called at eight. Nikki got off with her mother and swore at having to leave so early. She sprayed a heavy amount of perfume on herself and hugged Audrey, enveloping her in her scent. As Nikki left, Audrey thought Nikki didn't know how lucky she was. She had everything, including parents that cared. Back on the couch watching TV, later shutting it off, Audrey waited for her mother until it was no use waiting for her that night.

In the morning Audrey woke up to the doorbell ringing again and again. Audrey got up in her pajamas, her hair disheveled, and went down to answer the door. Two police officers stood outside looking at her. "Audrey Taylor?" the female officer asked.

"Yes, can I help you?"

"You're under arrest for criminal battery and assault," the officer said grabbing Audrey. "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law..."

Audrey, incredulous, pleading her case, was taken in handcuffs to the back of the squad car, where she sat with the realization she was going to jail for the first time in her life.

Booked at county, Audrey had her fingerprints and mug shots taken. She was then put in a room with other teenagers. A few girls there asked her what she was charged with. She said a bogus assault charge. The girls there said all their charges were bogus and laughed with perverse satisfaction. Audrey noticed Nikki wasn't in the room with them.

Audrey spent the next two days in detention with young women that talked all night, were stir crazy, and couldn't be calmed when angered. Emotionally exhausted, Audrey was given a respite when a guard called her and said her mother was here to see her. The guard escorted her to a room, where Audrey's mom waited by a table.

She sat down. She looked down at her cuffed wrists that chafed. Her mother leaned forward on the table.

"Audrey, they say you beat a girl unconscious. That friend of yours Nikki Vance said you did it."

So, Nikki snitched on her, and Lisa went along with it. If it was her word against Nikki's, Audrey knew whom the authorities would believe. She never felt more betrayed by someone than at that moment.

"They're sending you to a girls' juvenile hall facility. Your guidance counselor put in a good word for you, but how the hell did this happen? Why did you beat this girl?"

"Come on, Mom. What the hell do you care?"

"What do you mean, what do I care? I'm your mother."

"When it's convenient, Mom. When it's convenient, like two days after I'm arrested, and you've finished your fling with whoever it is this time. Mom, how the hell could something like this not have happened? You don't really care. You're never there when I need you. When you are there, it's after the fact. You're never at home. When you are at home, it's with strangers I've never seen in my life. Dad's gone. I haven't seen him since I was five, and then he just decides I'm not worth it. How the hell was this supposed to not have happened, Mom? How the hell..." Audrey teared up and looked away.

"Audrey, look at me. I do my best. I feed you, I clothe you, I give you shelter. No one else in the world would do that for you. It... it wasn't easy for me when your dad left. But he didn't think I was worth it either. And when I act the way I do, it's 'cause I don't know what else I can do. But I'm your mother, Audrey. I can't escape that. You can't escape that. And, I'll try to be better, but you have to be better also."

"Mom, I'm afraid."

Angela, Audrey's mother, reached over the desk separating them and hugged her, telling her it would be all right. Audrey felt her mother's love. And she knew she could get through this because Mom had her back; which meant the world to her, here in this place where all Audrey needed was one person that cared.

8 comments:

  1. Unfortunately, there are too many kids in the same situation as Audrey. The story of her descent into criminality is realistically recounted, with bits of detail, like the picture turned away from Audrey in the counsellor's office, which put the reader right in there with her.
    I would've liked to have seen a hook, or something, showing me that the mother did actually care, in her own way. Everything was stacked against Audrey, and the mother's message was plain. That's how it is and we survive.

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  2. Great dialogue. Sad but true expression of kids in these situations. I was hoping for an ending where Nikki doesn't get away with it....maybe in the sequel.

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    1. I take pride in my dialogue, so thanks for the compliment.

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  3. A dark tale with an unexpectedly upbeat ending. Audrey's character seems capable of turning things around...if she can avoid the urge to exact a little revenge on the "friend" who so cruelly betrayed her.

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  4. Sounds like a good next chapter. Thanks for the comment.

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  5. Super dialog, vivid and well thought out. I also would have appreciated an action on the Mom's part that shows her commitment, rather than just dialog. But in truth that's a small thing - and the overall story is compelling.

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