Swoosh! (Chapter Four of the Novella, “Ducky”)

{brief strong language; brief sexual language]

Swoosh!

“Detention’s after school tonight,” Joni said, reminding her mother. They were all around the breakfast table at the kitchen island at their usual places. Clarisse thumbed her Blackberry, her preference no matter how smart smartphones became.

Joni and her father had fun role-playing the scene in the cafeteria that got Joni locked-up. Joni laughed loudly when Brett faked a punch in the mouth. During the fun, Robin stepped away and sat on the stair steps. Joni noticed her absence and joined her.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s nothing important. I just started feeling sorry for myself again. I do it sometimes. On the street, I would just walk it out.”

“Here, we try to talk it out. What made you feel bad, the biggest thing first?”

“Family,” Robin said. “It’s something I never had. Growing up laughing and loving.”

I should tell her, Robin thought. That black silent car cruising this neighborhood last night, I know who that was. He found me.

Joni put her arm around Robin and pulled her in snug, but not too tight. “We comfort each other when tears come no matter the reason. We can do that for each other, that can be our relationship first thing.”

Robin looked up at her and looked away quickly.

“What did I say?” Joni asked.

Amante de la virgen, (virgin lover) this is all going to blow up, Robin thought and searched her eyes. She put a finger to Joni’s lips, “What you said was perfect. I’m the street smart one and you taught me this time. You and your first things.” She pulled Joni to her and they kissed.

“Ahem,” Clarisse cleared her throat and the two girls parted their kiss. Robin started to stand but Joni pressed her leg. “That is taking longer to get used to than I thought. I’m still deliberating what to do about that. Anyway, I was on the phone with the Department of Social and Health Services, Robin. I am sorry to inform you but it took a serious investigation just to find your file. They fired your case worker months ago for drug use. They had forgotten about you until I told them I was your attorney. They almost peed themselves,” Robin and Joni laughed. “There’s more, and some of it is good, some not,” she said and nodded to Joni.

“It’s okay, Mrs. D. I’ve decided Ducky can hear everything,” Robin said and turned to Joni. Please don’t hate me. Some of this is harsh and hard to listen to.”

Clarisse informed Robin she got her birth certificate and that her birth name was Roberta Cruz, she was of Puerto Rican descent, and that she was sixteen, not seventeen as foster families told her. Her parents were victims of murder and their death was an ongoing police investigation. Clarisse told her the last known address of her older sister, Teresa Cruz, but had no more information on her.

“You have a sister?” Joni asked.

“Teresa yeah. And neither of us can speak a word of Spanish. I was going to tell you today or tomorrow, but now is as good a time as any. Teresa and I were in the foster system together until they separated us. I think they sold her.”

“Sold her?”

“They sell pretty teenage girls. That’s why I told you that the day I ran out of the cafeteria, that I could not go back into the system. They sold her, and they will sell me, too.”

Joni nodded while looking down at her interlaced fingers. “Your name’s not Randall. I don’t care about that. Cruz is good, too. What do you want to be called?”

“That was my question,” Clarisse said.

“Randall,” Robin said. “That’s what everyone knows me by. Right now, nothing really needs to change much, does it? I mean, Randall hides me, too. Maybe the fosters were smart about that.”

They talked about names and Robin’s plea for emancipation. They explained the procedure to Joni. Robin thanked Clarisse and told her she did not know when or how she would be able to repay her for all this.

Clarisse stepped to Robin and held out her hand, “Come with me,” she said. Robin sat there looking up at her. Clarisse wiggled her hand, “Come!” Robin stood and took her hand. Clarisse stepped on the stairs and Joni got out of her way. Clarisse led Robin upstairs to the bridge, to the overlook to the great room below.

She put her arm around Robin’s shoulders. “Do you see all this,” she said and waved her hand. “We are those rich white people you read about.”

Robin laughed. Joni laughed to hear Robin laugh.

“I want a chance to do something good for someone who really deserves it. Sure, I give to charities, but that’s just licking stamps. When I look at you, I see a bright, talented young woman who has never had a break in her life. And here I am, a successful defense attorney who worked hard to get here, but caught a bunch of breaks along the way. My husband is so rich and entitled that he watches where he drives at night. He would get a brick through the windshield just for principles! I see a chance to send the elevator back down, and give a well deserving woman at least one small break. So, the next time you think you are imposing on me, come to this bridge and look at all this very expensive imported wood and say, “Naw, these white folks can afford me.”

Robin turned and faced Clarisse, “Thank you, Clarisse.” She wrapped her arms around Clarisse for a big hug.

“Mmmmm! This makes it all worth it,” Clarisse said. “You’re giggling.”

“For principles. That was funny.” She rubbed Clarisse’s back and she didn’t seem to mind.

“I’ve got more news. This is for Ducky. I did some checking on boxing for you. There is a gym in Seattle called the PAL Boxing Center. That’s capital P, A, L. It stands for Police Activities League. It is operated by the Seattle Police Department and I hear it is a nice facility. It is a member of the Pacific Northwest Amateur Boxing Association which is the local USA Boxing organization. It is not the only club in the city that is a member, but this one focuses on juniors such as yourself. It might be a good place to start training, if you are interested. You could train after school and on weekends, if your schedule has room.”

“Let me get with the softball coach. We…”

Clarisse checked her watch, “Jiminy! You’ve missed the school bus. Grab your stuff. I have to take you.”

At lunch Joni went to meet with Robin to walk to lunch together. She also had news that her softball coach had no problems with her missing practice. Today she wore a white, short-sleeved polo shirt and blue jeans. She took long strides down the hall to the band and orchestra practice room and auditorium. She heard piano music in the hallway. Muffled music emanated from the door as someone exited. The door closed and it went silent once more from the soundproofing.

She opened the door and the most beautiful music hit her. There was a crowd gathered around the grand piano and she walked across the concert stage. Robin was at the grand piano. She played classical style. Sheet music was in front of her. Joni had no idea what she played, but it was lovely. It was slow and came in waves, hard alternating with light. She pushed her way through. There were whispers. “Let her through.” “It’s Ducky.” “It’s her.” And she heard, “lesbian.” She ignored those comments, the hateful ones. She had heard them all day.

Joni’s blonde hair was damp from her recent shower. She parted it in the middle and it hung loose past her shoulders on both sides in frizzy curly tubes. She had never worn her hair down in school. The lighting was dark on the stage except for a spotlight on Robin. Bits of the people around her were in and out of the spotlight. The music instructor stood next to her, leaning in, smiling. Joni parted the crowd and moved slowly to her. Joni stepped into the spotlight with Robin at the piano.

Robin looked up from the music, saw her, looked back at the sheet music, doing a double-take. Robin stopped playing. She crawled up onto the long stool on her knees and wrapped her arms around Joni’s neck. They kissed and Robin kept her eyes open running her fingers through Joni’s hair. Some students applauded, some became disgusted, turned, and left. Cell phones came out. Joni put a hand on the small of her back and pulled her close.

Mr. Rossini spoke quietly. “Okay, let’s break this up, girls.” He was a short, thin man with a moustache that curled up on the ends.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Joni said smiling. “You were playing so beautiful.”

You’re so beautiful, and getting bold.” She leaned in and whispered, “watch the hands!” She moved Joni’s hand off her butt.

Joni shook her head and laughed, “I’m a muscled-up freak. We’re like beauty and the beast.” Some students laughed.

“Miss Donald, what business do you have here besides swallowing Robin?” The students laughed.

“I just wanted to tell Robin that Ms. Constance said I could do detention in the gym. Mrs. Granger, is good with it and she wants me to do some shoot-arounds with the basketball team.” Joni said and smiled.

“The gym,” Robin said and grinned, “Of course, where else would you do detention.”

“Perfect. Are you coming to lunch?”

“The bell hasn’t rung yet,” Mr. Rossini said, “and you are interrupting class.”

“Oh, excuse me, I’m sorry. I didn’t know this was…” she said and waved her hand at the students. The bell rang. Joni smiled.

After school, the girls from the basketball team and Joni were in the locker room putting on workout clothes for the shoot around. She was with the core of the high school team, the starters. This was a good year. They advanced to the semifinals in Tacoma at the Dome. They lost to Bothell 56 to 50. She sat next to Kim Foster, the starting forward at the “four” position. Kim was six feet two inches tall. They were putting on their shoes. Joni looked around as she tied her shoes and raised her head high. She gave a curt nod. These girls were mirrors of her, her size, her enthusiasm and dreams. This felt like home.

There’s not supposed to be organized practices during the off season but the girls like to get together on their own after school to keep their skills sharp, if a faculty member was willing to stay and lock up the gym.

“I saw you hit that ball. I went, ‘Damn, Duck!’ from where I sat it looked like you tried to murder it.” Kim shook her head and laughed.

“I know, right!” said Georgia Carnes. Georgia was the starting point guard. She was five feet eight. She was a wiry, thin, quick African American girl who could get around a defender in a blink if they didn’t guard her close – or if they guarded her too close. “The look on your face. Ducky, you snarled! I knew you were going to hit it long, but goddamn! I didn’t know you were going to knock the peelings off of it!”

Everyone laughed at that, including Joni. She shook her head. “I was a little bit emotional,” she said.

Everyone laughed again. “I guess so! That was a PMS ball!” Kim said. Everyone laughed again. “Hey, stand up, Duck.” She stood. Kim stepped up to her. “How tall did you tell coach Granger you were?”

“I’m just a little over six feet, almost six-one,” Joni said.

Kim shook her head, “No, you are not. You are six-two if you are an inch. I’m six-two and you are as tall as me.” Others agreed and nodded. Coach Granger walked in. Granger was tall, of course, fortyish, deep brown hair with gray on the sides. She had thinly plucked eyebrows and sparkly blue eyes. “Is everyone ready? We need to get this rolling.”

“What about it coach? We were debating. Ducky says she’s six feet, we say she’s six-two.”

“Well, there’s only one way to know for sure. Let’s go to the office and get on the scales.”

They all marched out of the locker room and down the wall of the gym. Robin sat in the bleachers. She looked up from her math book and watched the gaggle of girls, big girls, with Joni and the coach in the front.

“Off with your shoes, and step up on the scales, Ducky,” Coach Granger said. The coach slid the balancing weights over. “Okay that’s one-forty-eight. Okay, step off.”

“Damn, I gained a couple pounds,” Joni said.

“You’ve been lifting, haven’t you?” the coach asked.

“Yeah, I lift every day,” Joni said.

“Have you seen your arms, shoulders and legs? You are putting on mass. That’s where you’re gaining weight. Sure, you get stronger, but how much more do you need? Considering the force you hit that softball with, I’d say you’re where you need to be!” The girls laughed.

Kim popped her on top her should her with her fist, “Damn, Ducky, you are like iron! Check her out!”

She got poked and punched by the girls. “She doesn’t have any body fat, Coach. Her abs are washboards,” Kim said. Some of the girls giggled. Yolanda Johnson, got Joni’s eye. The six-feet-four post player nodded at the coach and mouthed, “lesbian.” Joni looked at Coach Granger. Coach Granger had a dazed look in her eyes and was practically drooling. Her tongue was at the roof of her mouth and one of her eyes was half closed.

“Let’s check your height next,” Coach Granger finally said. She stepped up on the scales backward and Coach Granger lowered the bar down to the crown of her head. “Lower your chin some. Good. Ducky, you are six-feet-two and one quarter inches without shoes.” Joni stepped way.

“Okay girls, out on the floor. Get four racks of balls on the ‘three’ line. Hustle up!” They all ran out. Yolanda, the African American post player lingered back with Joni.

“Whoa, I’m six feet two. I really didn’t want to grow more. I’m…” she mumbled and started out the door. Yolanda stopped her.

“You’re what? A freak? I heard you say that once,” Yolanda said. “What do you think about me?”

“Oh shit, there I go again. I say things without thinking. I was in my pity mood. I referred to myself as a freak and you’re taller than me. Forgive me, please?” Joni asked pleadingly.

“It’s okay, I got used to this body a long time ago but it still hurts sometimes to hear body shaming stuff, like freak. Hey,” she said and turned Joni to her, “you caught that when I whispered ‘lesbian’ about Coach Granger, right?”

Ducky grinned, “Yeah, I did. She was sort of out of it there for a minute.”

“I think you gave her a bus seat,” Yolanda said.

“A bus seat?”

Yolanda smiled, “Ask your girl, Robin. You know when I said Coach was lesbian?” Yolanda leaned in and kissed Joni, a short kiss on the lips. “Most of us are,” she said when their lips parted.

Joni’s mouth fell open. Her breath hitched and she put her fingers over her mouth. Her face turned red. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand while stomping out behind Yolanda. She looked over at Robin and Robin frowned. Joni changed direction and marched to Robin.

“What in the world is happening, Ducky?”

“I’m upset at another girl. She did something and I’m mad about it.”

“What did she do?” Robin asked, her voice deepening.

“I should tell you later when we’re away from here.”

“Ducky?”

Joni cried. She folded her arms across her chest and looked at Robin through red eyes. Robin got her purse that Clarisse bought her and got a pack of Kleenex, also from Clarisse, and began handing dry Kleenex to Joni as she soaked them. Joni plopped down beside Robin and Robin held her as much as she could, being she was so much taller. The firmness of Joni’s shoulders always surprised Robin.

“I’m so angry. She kissed me,” Joni said after she calmed some.

“What? Who?” Robin asked.

“Don’t look around. It was Yolanda. I didn’t see it coming. She just leaned in and kissed me.” Joni hit herself on her leg with her fist.

“The tall one?”

She nodded. Robin started to get up but she stopped her. “I have to grow up. I must learn to handle things like this. I can’t go running and crying to somebody every time I hurt. Please let me try to handle this myself, please.”

Robin sat back down on the bleacher. “I’m proud that you didn’t hide this from me. You told me right away. That shows me that you trust me. I love you more for that, Ducky. Can I kiss you now? I can erase her kiss with my kiss?”

“That would be nice,” Joni said. They kissed. When they finished, she asked, “What’s a ‘bus seat’?”

Robin grinned, “Where did you hear that?”

“The coach went into a daze, sort of, when she measured me and Yolanda said I gave her bus seat. I don’t know what that is.”

Robin set her purse back on the floor angrily. She whispered loudly, “It’s an orgasm, Ducky. It’s when a girl gets off without using her hands, like from the motion of a bus seat. I don’t know if this basketball thing is going to work at all.”

“Ducky, sweetie, let’s get started!” Coach Granger yelled.

Robin went wide-eyed, “Sweetie?”

Joni stood, “Oh! I meant to tell you, she measured me and I grew an inch. I’m sex feet two now, I mean six feet two!” She shook her head and bounded out on the floor.

She grabbed a ball from the furthest rack away from Robin, jumped up, shot, swoosh! She ran to the next rack of balls, grabbed one, jumped, shot, swoosh!

They have her head spinning, Robin thought watching Joni make baskets. Joni was young and naïve, a very stark contrast to Robin’s level of maturity with her exposure to sex at such an early age in foster homes.

She ran to the next rack, jumped, shot, swoosh! She ran back to the previous rack, grabbed a ball, shot with her left hand, swoosh! They cheered her.

Sexualized, they call it now, Robin thought. Joni, raised sheltered in a white privileged world. She had her loving family and her sports, and her virginity intact. Robin’s story included forced sex at pre-pubescence, drugs, things kids shouldn’t even see, let alone be part of.

Joni ran to the next rack to her left, grabbed a ball, jumped, shot with her left hand again, swoosh! She did it again on the next rack! She ran to the last rack in the corner, grabbed a ball, jumped, shot with her left hand, swoosh!

They were two stars burning bright orbiting one another, but coming together could spell disaster for the entire solar system. She was frightened. He frightened her more. That man in the dark car. Mr. Rossini told her today that she qualified for the symphony orchestra. He planned to feature her on the piano for an upcoming performance. It was a dream come true. Her dreams didn’t come true. Her dreams were train wrecks. Dreams were for people like Joni Donald.

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