Going Home - a Force of Magic Short
by Kevin McCarthy
"Hey Momma, I'm home!"
Carmelite walked into her house on Academy in Jennings, Louisiana. It had been four months since she left and her world had been irrevocably altered. The front porch was open, but screened in. She could hear the TV playing in the living room. It was early afternoon, so it would be one of the talk shows.
"Cam!" she heard her mom shout. The two met in the front sitting room. The hug lasted for what felt like weeks. "Oh honey," her momma said, "I been worried bout ya. God is good and he brought ya back home."
"I missed you too, Momma."
"How'd ya get home? You ain't got kicked outta that school? You ain't pregnant?" Momma held her nearly 16 year-old daughter at arm's length, staring into her eyes, looking for a hint of a lie.
"No, Momma. I'm not pregnant," she said, getting the important stuff out of the way first.
"Praise the Lord," Momma shouted.
"The school has to do some repairs on the dorms, so we all get a week long break. One of the teachers brought me home."
Everything she said was true enough. Best not to mention what caused the damage to the dorms and how she almost didn't survive. Two of her classmates didn't. Pete, the athlete turned blacksmith, who was too brave for his own good died protecting Emma. And Emma died, screaming in the corner.
Carmelite shook her head. No, don't think about it. Breathe. Relax. It only took a second. Momma wasn't book smart, but she knew everything about people.
"Cam, you sure things alright?"
"Yes, Momma. I think I left one of my books. They gave us homework to do while we were gone."
"Well, I so glad you gettin' a good education at that school. It's a miracle from heaven that you get to go."
A few minutes later, Cam was in her room and Momma was calling all her friends to say her smart daughter had come home from that fancy school all the way in New York, the state, not the city.
The first day there had been the scariest day in her life. She had been a freshman at Jennings High. One day, everyone in the school had to take a test and it was a weird test. Then she had an interview with two nice women from a place no one in Jennings had ever heard of.
It turns out that Miss Karen was the administrative assistant to the Head Master and Miss Sharyn was a teacher. Miss Sharyn was black, like Cam, but dressed really nice. She wore a suit every day and didn't talk like she was from the ghetto.
Just looking at her old room, piled high with half filled boxes and junk from a previous life, made her cringe. Walking in the house, full of trash, with moldy oranges on the table, under a pile of mail that had never been opened, almost scared her. She discovered, quite by accident, that she liked it when her space was tidy.
She wished she just just clean the room with fire. She jumped with sparkles flashed across her vision. Quickly, she calmed back down. Don't think about it. Breathe. Relax.
"Shit," she said looking at her bed, piled high with clothes from months ago. "Where am I going to sleep?"
The party welcoming her home was not a rousing success, at least to Cam. She had always been what her mother called a "wall-flower". Large social gatherings were to be endured rather than looked forward to. Since she was the guest of honor, she couldn't just slip out. At least, not until everyone was mostly drunk.
The kids that she had grown up with would barely talk to her. The adults wanted to hear about this school. She talked about how hard it was, but she had tutors to get her caught up. Half thought she was selling out to the white man and the other half thought it was a waste if she wasn't learning a trade.
She went to the front yard, where most of the men and boys had gathered. Mr. Joseph from across the street had driven his giant bar-b-que/smoker over. It was longer than his truck and he must have had two hundred pounds of meat cooking.
Cam sat on the front steps with her elbows on her knees and chin in her hands. All the cool boys were hanging out drinking beer and smoking. One of them saw her and, not very subtly, nudged the rest. Cam, by listening very carefully and shutting out everything else, could hear Mike, the 18-year-old Jennings High quarterback.
"Damn, I'd do her now, yeah?"
The other boys agreed. Mike finished his beer, grabbed two more from the cooler, and walked over to her.
"Hey babe," He said and sat on the step. "Beer?" he asked, holding one of the cans out to her. "Me and the guys are heading over to the lake tonight, wanna come?"
She politely took the beer, setting it down on the steps. "Thanks, but I have homework tonight."
"Girl, it's Saturday. Comon, we got some good shit. It'll be fun."
"No thanks, Mike."
"Damn girl, that fancy ass school just made you into a fucking oreo. Bitch," he said stomping off to his friends. They laughed at him getting shot down. One of them held out a joint. Mike took it and flicked open a lighter.
Cam saw the sparkles in her eyes this time and let them come. The flame on the lighter went out. Mike thumbed it again and again the flame disappeared as soon as it appeared.
Under her breath, Cam muttered, "There are three things needed for fire. Oxygen." The flame went out again. "An ignition source." Mike thumbed it again and again, without getting a spark. "And fuel." Mike thumbed the lighter again and it burst into a ball of flame, singing his hair. He screamed and dropped the joint and the remains of the lighter. The rest of the guys in the group laughed long and loud.
Cam got up and went back inside. Party and homework duties done, she could rest for a while.
The next morning, Cam got up to an angry mother.
"Girl," she yelled. "Why you sneakin out on me. You get pregnant, they gonna kick you out class."
"What?" Cam said. "I didn't go anywhere last night. I stayed in my room the whole night."
"Girl, there's stories all over town 'bout how you hooked up with Mike last night. I will not have my daughter sneaking out to be with some boy."
”Don't you 'Momma' me. You are grounded. I'm gonna call Mr. Jim to come nail that window shut."
Cam stormed out of the house and started walking. The neighborhood was familiar and her feet knew where to go. It was too much like what she remembered from before. Her mother believed any rumor over her own daughter. No matter how ridiculous.
Some days, she hated her mother and the constant changes in behavior. Which Cam now suspected to be bipolar disorder or something similar. Her mother was happier than anyone had a right to be one minute, but massively depressed or angry the next. Cam decided that she couldn't live like this anymore.
She had a place, had lucked into a place, where she belonged and it wasn't Louisiana. Staying here was a death sentence. Marrying some mechanic or drilling rig guy. Having two or three kids. Divorced by 28. No education, no one to talk to, and no way out.
Once she calmed down, she found herself outside Boudin King. She did miss the food though. Maybe she could get some to take back to school. Standing outside, trying to decide if she was hungry enough to pay for a meal, Mike and other boys came out.
She saw sparkles in her eyes and let them come. She shouted, "What did you do?"
"Oh hey, if it ain't the bitch who's too good for us."
"What did you tell my mother?" she shouted again and started walking toward them. Every time she blinked the sparkles were blindingly bright. Like staring into the sun, but it didn't hurt.
"Oreo, I didn't say shit to your fat-ass momma. You shoulda come with us, maybe rumors never get started."
She swung at him, from about four feet away. The boys started laughing until they saw Mike laying on the pavement, curled up with his arms holding his stomach. He was having trouble breathing. They all shouted and ran.
The sparkles vanished from her vision even more quickly than they appeared. Suddenly, she was out of breath and very tired. But she was also elated. She stared down at her hands. Just like they said, she thought. It was just like they said. A wall had crumbled.
Then she looked at Mike, lying there, gasping for breath, and realized what the crumbling of that wall had caused. She was suddenly terrified.
One of the boys had dropped a cell phone next to Mike. She grabbed it and dialed a number from memory.
"Hello?" a male voice on the other end asked.
"Mr. Alex, sir."
"Carmelite," the voice sounded happy, but slightly wary, "how are you?"
"Sir, I need help. It happened, like you said."
"I'll be right there." The line went dead.
Seconds later a tall, mostly thin man walked around the corner of the building. He was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt that read "LEGO is a life, not a toy".
"Cam," he said and she ran to him like she would to the father she never knew. She hugged him tightly and started shaking and crying and blabbering about what happened.
"Calmly, Cam. You'll be OK. Don't think about it. Breathe. Relax. Just breathe and relax." And she did.
He glanced over at the boy, starting to haul himself up from the concrete. "You saw all the sparkles didn't you?"
"Yes, sir. Just like you said. But, I think I hit him."
"OK, let's go see how he is. He deserved it right?"
He stopped in front of the angry young man. He stared at Mike's stomach, turning his head slightly as if closely examining a painting.
"Hey bitch, I'm gonna beat your ass," Mike shouted and raised his hand to punch Cam.
The tall man didn't even raise his voice. Just lifted his left hand slightly and said, "No. You aren't," and Mike's arm fell. It just hung limply at his side.
"What the fuck, man?"
"He's not badly hurt, Cam. Just took a solid blow to the solar plexus. No permanent damage. It was a good hit, perfectly placed to disable. If you had hit him a much harder than you did, you could have killed him. That was well done."
The man finally looked Mike in the eyes. Calmly, with no passion, he spoke. "Listen to me son."
Mike looked like he tried to start yelling, but he stopped before he got started. "Cam, my apprentice, is very special to me. Hurting her upsets me. So, it won't happen again.
"Your friends are all going to have this hilarious story of Cam kicking your ass. And you're going to laugh with them and never say anything else, ever. I will know if you do and I will not take it lightly. Will you do this? The possible answers are 'yes' and 'no'.
"Say 'yes' and we all go our separate ways never to see each other again. Say 'no' and you'll go to school permanently paralyzed from the waist down. You may speak."
Mike shuddered briefly and opened his mouth to yell, but something changed his mind. He very quietly said, "Yes".
The man tilted his head again.
"...sir," continued Mike grudgingly.
"Good. That arm will be fine in a couple of hours. Come along Cam. We should get back to the school. You can stay with Sharyn for the rest of the week."
Cam and the man walked around the corner of the building.
Mike, cradling his unmoving arm, stuck his head around the corner. The side parking lot was empty.