Friday, May 18, 2012
White Trash In the Snow - Chapter One
“You didn’t pull out! Why didn’t you pull out? Shit, Wrangler! What’s the matter with you?”
Sixteen-year-old Cristol Saplin and her boyfriend, Wrangler Strauss were in her bedroom in the Governor’s home on Lake Azzolla, their Levis and shirts in a heap on the rug.
She pushed him off her and sat up.
Wrangler rolled onto his side and leaned on an elbow. “What’s the big deal? Nothing’s going to happen.”
“How would you know, you dumb jock?” She shoved him off the bed and he landed on one of his boots.
“Hey,” he said, “stop fooling around. What’s the matter with you?”
Wrangler got to his feet and picked up his jeans. As he put a foot into one pant leg, he turned to her, “You’re getting really weird, Cristol. Bitchin’ all the time. I hope you get over whatever’s bugging you real soon, ‘cause I’m not putting up with this fuckin’ shit much longer.”
“Cristol!” Her mother’s voice came from downstairs.
“Shit!” Cristol sprang off the bed and scrambled for her clothes. Wrangler hurriedly zipped his jeans and worked his arms through the sleeves of his shirt. While buttoning it up, he put his left foot into a boot.
“Cristol, are you up there?” Rachael Saplin’s voice was no closer. She was not headed up the stairs. Cristol breathed out a sigh.
“Yes, Mom!” she called out, then whispered to Wrangler “just stay here.” Leaving her jeans undone, she pulled a large t-shirt over her head and let it fall loosely down over her hips. Reaching for the doorknob, she took a deep breath. “What do you want?” Her voice registered annoyance, her most common state of emotion since her mother took office six months ago. The event had turned Cristol’s life upside down. Frowning, she moved toward the stairs.
“Come help me. Make your sister a sandwich while I check my email. And put the wash into the dryer like you were supposed to do when you got home. I need your help, Cristol. Since I let the help go you’ve been doing less and less around here. That’s got to change, young lady.”
Cristol stopped on the third stair. Her heart was pounding and she felt her face flush as tears welled up in her eyes.
“Everybody keeps saying I need to change! I don’t need to change! What I need is to be left alone! Just leave me alone!” She turned and stomped up the stairs, slamming the bedroom door behind her.
Wrangler was in shock. Now what was he going to do? Governor Saplin would be coming up those steps any minute.
Cristol’s room was off limits to boys. She and her old boyfriend, JJ, had often hung out in her room, but, just before they broke up, Mrs. S had made an unfortunate discovery of something under Cristol’s bed, and new rules were put into place.
Wrangler had been in and out of this same house many times since grammar school days when he used to play with Cristol’s older brother, Field. He knew that Mr. and Mrs. S were not strict parents, and he used to think it was because they weren’t home enough to know what their kids were up to, unlike his own mother who was almost always at home. He remembered when Field, at twelve, began picking schoolyard fights. He was tough. He did damage. In high school, Field Saplin led the hockey team in minutes spent in the penalty box for on-the-ice brawls. Busting other guys’ heads was only the beginning. Before he had turned seventeen, Field Saplin had gotten very good at playing test-the-limits-of-the-law. He’d dealt himself a full house of high-point cards off the bottom of the deck: drug use, alcohol abuse, theft, vandalism, breaking and entering. He got away with all of it. In Azzolla people suspected that Tad and Rachael Saplin used their influence to protect Field from consequences.
If she ever got into real trouble, Cristol assumed that her parents would cover for her, too. Like her brother, Cristol drank often and too much. She had done some drugs, but, unlike Field, she was not addicted to any. In the seven months since obtaining a driver’s permit, she’d been pulled over for speeding five times and been given tickets twice. Both were dismissed after her dad made phone calls. Her mother said the troopers were picking on her because of her title. It didn’t make any sense to Wrangler.
“Title? What title?” he had asked Cristol.
“The Governor’s Daughter,” she’d replied smugly. Wisely, he hid his reaction. No good ever came from making her angry. If anyone could hold a grudge, it was Cristol Saplin; it was something she learned from her mother.
That afternoon, Wrangler and The Governor’s Daughter had planned their afternoon romp while clearing their trash from a table in McDonald’s. When they left, Wrangler held the door for her, and once they were outside he asked about the dangers of getting caught in her room. She laughed, downplaying any risk, “Even if we got caught - and we won’t - Mom and Dad wouldn’t do anything.”
Wrangler kicked at a stone. He was conflicted. Cristol’s room would be better than his truck again, but he really didn’t want to get caught. If his mom got a call from the Saplins she would be living in fear of the consequences for months, maybe years. And she had enough to deal with already – constant back pain, bills she couldn’t pay, being a single parent. He didn’t want to be the cause of any more grief.
“They wouldn’t even tell my mom?”
“For sure they’d never tell your mom,” Cristol assured him, holding out a piece of gum. He turned it down; he had some chewing tobacco in the glove compartment. She continued the subject that was on both their minds. “If we ever got caught, it would just be embarrassing. No big deal.”
“Yeah, no big deal.” At the time, the risk seemed worth taking.
They got in his truck and headed for her house. Cristol was in a good mood. She walked two fingers up his right thigh, across the folds in his jeans, and tugged lightly on the zipper. “Kinda wish there was a chance of getting caught,” she said, looking up coyly. “’Cause you’re really cute when you get embarrassed.”
Wrangler took a corner a little too fast and her hand slipped away. “I don’t get embarrassed,” he corrected her.
She sat back and smiled. “Oh, really? I’ve seen you blush. You aren’t a very good liar, Wrangler Strauss. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t be embarrassed to be caught with your pants down.” She snapped her gum loudly and lifted her chin as if to challenge him to disagree.
“Got nothin’ to be embarrassed about –‘especially when my pants are down.”
Now, only an hour later, Wrangler stared at the closed door and remembered that cock-sure boast he’d made. He felt heat rising in his face. Was he blushing? No, he was angry. He was angry with Cristol because she had sworn to him that no one would come home.
It wasn’t just that Cristol was not supposed to have a boy in her room; her mom didn’t like Cristol hanging with Wrangler at all. ”valley trash,” that’s what Cristol said the governor called him during one of their recent arguments. No, he definitely wasn’t the kind of dude she wanted matched with Princess Number One. Then again, there probably wasn’t anybody good enough to suit Mrs. S or Cristol’s dad.
Cristol’s folks are the kind of people who think their shit don’t stink. It was an observation that often popped into his head, and last week he had made the mistake of saying it to her. She’d been complaining that her parents were “ruining her life” by making her go to a “lame political event” because her mother wanted to “show off their perfect family,” and he thought he was being supportive. To his surprise, she got defensive.
“What are you talking about, Wrangler?”
“I’m just sayin’ your mom thinks she’s better than other people.”
“She does not! Why do you think that?”
“Why? Cause she’s always got that stupid excuse for her mistakes – or worse still, one of her whoppin’ big lies,” he said. Then he imitated Mrs. S, “Us Christians aren’t perfect, we’re forgiven.” He’d heard her say it dozens of times.
“You don’t know anything, Wrangler!” Cristol was mad. She didn’t like anyone making fun of her family’s evangelical beliefs. They were important to her.
“For your information, that only means that Jesus took all of our sins and that makes us perfect in God’s sight, and -”
“See? You said it! You’re perfect. Tell me that ain’t bein’ a snob.”
“You are too stupid to understand.”
“Oh yeah? If you’re so smart, answer me this: when you and I…when we…you know. You aren’t guilty? But, I am?”
“That’s right! You are and I’m not ‘cause I always ask for forgiveness. So there.” She stuck out her tongue. “We’ve had this conversation before. You’re just too stupid to get it.” It was true, they had talked about it, and it made no more sense to Wrangler this time than any time before.
“That’s so phony. Like I said, you all think you’re better than other people.” The argument abruptly ended their evening together. That was a week ago. They had sinned three times since then.
Ha! Cristol is going to have to ask for forgiveness again tonight. The thought amused him. As far as he was concerned, what the two of them were doing was not wrong or unnatural, or even illegal. They had both reached the age of consent, and they enjoyed consenting. It was their constitutional right. As Mrs. S liked to say, Americans love their freedoms!
All these thoughts had gone through Wrangler’s mind in the long minute that he stood frozen in place at the foot of Cristol’s bed. He smiled slightly, imagining himself telling Mrs. S that he and Cristol were doing nothing wrong, just being good, patriotic Americans – pursuing happiness.
Cristol noticed the silly grin. “Shut up!” she snapped.
“What?” he snapped back. “I didn’t say anything!”
Just then there was a knock on the door. “Open up Cristol. And I heard your voice, too, Wrangler, so don’t bother tryin’ to hide.”
Wrangler and Cristol looked at each other in panic. For a few seconds neither moved. Then he shrugged, went to the door and opened it.
“Hi Mrs. S,” he said with a shy, lopsided smile.
Rachael looked at him, her red lips pursed. Behind her glasses, her eyes narrowed. Strange timing for a joke to come to mind, yet he instantly recalled something about a pit bull wearing lipstick.
He moved aside to let her in. She didn’t budge. He tried small talk, “J’you have a nice day? How’s the state doing?” Her set jaw moved slightly, and while she glared at him silently, he spewed whatever came to mind, “Did I tell you? When I’m eighteen I’m gonna join that secessionist party. Been thinkin’ Mr. S is right. We’ve got our own oil. Screw the other states!”
More glaring. More jaw jutting.
“If we secede will you be President?”
Rachael was having none of it. “Get out!” She pointed toward the stairs. “Get out now before I call Ed and have you arrested.”
Ed Spivey was a state trooper married to Rachael’s younger sister, Sally Heat Spivey. In Wrangler’s eyes, Ed was The Man. He was living a dream - guns were part of his work wardrobe! Since Cristol had introduced her boyfriend and her uncle, the two had gotten together for target shooting a few times. Trooper Spivey basked in the admiration the boy showed him, and in return, Wrangler got to try out some advanced weaponry. Once, Uncle Ed let Wrangler test out a Taser gun. It was a controlled application, no one got hurt, and for Wrangler and Ed, it was a bonding experience.
Ed and Sally separated in March and since then Sally’s family had been compiling charges she would use against Ed in upcoming divorce actions. Everyone in the family was asked to help. When Cristol came up with the Taser incident, her aunt was delighted and her mother was shocked. Rachael, wanting to do all she could to hurt the man who made her sister’s life miserable, said she hoped to get him fired for Taser misuse, but so far, the union was protecting him.
“Bad troopers are a menace, and the Governor should be able to remove them,” Tad Saplin told the State Commissioner of Human Resources. The union boss, also in the meeting, didn’t argue. He just laughed. Tad liked to think of himself as second in line to the governor, but as far as the union was concerned, Tad Saplin was impotent.
Rachael knew that Ed was unaware of the enormous amount of grief his in-laws had in store for him, so she didn’t hesitate to threaten Wrangler by invoking his name. It would not be the first time she would ask a favor of someone and then kick them around. (Wrangler didn’t know much about politics, but, from hanging around at the Saplins, he believed this was called “being bipartisan.”)
Wrangler had a second reason not to be concerned about Cristol’s uncle – they had a mutual understanding. Trooper Spivey had been on patrol one night, heading for one of his favorite out-of-the-way places where he could drink for an hour or two without being caught, but, as he pulled up the lonely road, he found Wrangler and Cristol parked in the young man’s red Chevy Silverado. His timing was such that he interrupted the couple before things reached a climax. Nevertheless, the situation was awkward for everyone. Her uncle could have made lots of trouble for them, but, instead, he only advised them to take precautions. Wrangler, not the brightest star in the northern sky, assured Ed that he always had a gun in the truck. Striking a deal with Cristol, Uncle Ed said he wouldn’t tell her parents if she promised to get some condoms and use them. He’d kept his word. She hadn’t.
So, as Rachael Saplin ordered him to leave, Wrangler wasn’t worrying about Uncle Ed. Still, he tried to look serious and cast his eyes down as he stepped around Mrs. S, heading for the stairs. At the bottom he called out, “Bye, Cristol! Call you tonight.”
On the drive home, he wondered whether he and Cristol were going to last through the summer ahead. She’d recently started saying she loved him. He was cool with that, and while he wasn’t sure he loved Cristol, he definitely liked her. He liked her a lot. He told her he loved her because that’s what she wanted him to say. He gave girls what they needed, and Cristol needed to be loved. She was one hot chick, as hot as he’d ever been with. And he’d been with more than a few. Starting in the seventh grade there’d been Lynette on and off, and Sparkler, and Amber. And last week, when Cristol was out of town,…
Yup, if she didn’t stop being so moody, he might dump her. A guy can only take so much. There were plenty of cute girls. Plenty of them thought he was cute, too. On weekend nights when it seemed everyone between thirteen and twenty two was under the influence of whatever they could afford, he got lots of suggestive text messages and voice messages. Even from girls he’d only met once or twice. The really amazing thing, though, was that once in a while they sent pictures of themselves naked to his phone. What made girls do that? Sexting didn’t make sense. He would rather die than have pictures of himself without clothes get into the hands of strangers. Heck, don’t they know somebody could put those pictures on the internet and the whole world might see their stuff? Wrangler himself rarely used the internet. His MySpace page was set up by friends because he didn’t know how. So the girls’ pictures were safe with him, he would only share them with his closest buddies when they showed him the pictures they had on their own phones. Saving them was a risk, though, because if Cristol ever saw them, it would not be good. She was one of those jealous types; jealousy was the root cause of their many arguments. Oh, yeah, if Cristol found those texts or pictures, she would freak out.
Pulling into the driveway in the modest bungalow where he lived with his mom and his sister, Wrangler resolved that he wasn’t going to worry about it. Cristol was lucky to have him. They both knew it. Yup, if she became too big a pain in the ass, he’d just move on. Then she’d be sorry. Nobody else was chasing her. Everybody knew she was high maintenance – bitchin’ and whinin’ and keepin’ Wrangler on a short leash just like she had with JJ.