I watched as Wendy ran, surefooted over her rather unkempt yard, toward the disembodied voice that scratched out her name through a smoker's vocal chords.
I wondered about her mother. She was usually drunk, I knew that. Even my parents had said something about this behind closed doors and through whispered comments they thought I didn't hear.
I wondered about her life. It must have been hard to be so sheltered. Her mother never let her go out and play when we were younger. I guess she thought if Wendy got out, she'd tell people their family secrets and CPS would come and take her away to foster care.
Wendy must have grown up fast, having to care for a grown woman all her life. I'd seen Wendy in the kitchen cooking many times. I'd seen her more recently bringing groceries home as well.
I'd never actually seen her mother, not once. I'd seen her shadow, her profile angrily berating Wendy from behind the curtained door. I expected to see it now. I wanted to face her, for her to see me with her precious daughter. But she wasn't there.
She must have been too drunk to get off the couch. I sighed. Midnight huh? Well I had some time to kill. I wondered what she would want then?
I paced in my room, too nervous to sleep. The clock blinked ascending numbers back at me as I waited and my anticipation grew. My mind wandered. Would she be even more physical with me? Outside? Did she have a hiding spot? Would she sneak me into her house? I wasn't sure I would go. I've never faced an angry drunk before. I pictured her mother throwing things at my head or trying to shoot off my manhood.
Would we run away? I mean I know she hates her Mom, but I have a life on my side of the fence. I don't think I could just run off with her. Maybe I could take her to some sort of halfway house. No, I needed her. I couldn't leave her behind somewhere and I wasn't able to support two teenagers on their own in the great big world for any length of time.
I pictured us sleeping in alleys and hiding from cops. That's not the life I wanted. My daydream changed unwillingly to one of burning trash in a garbage bin to stay warm, then of burning down the doghouse in Crotchety's backyard. This time I couldnt' run away and Crotchety caught me and held me as I struggled to escape the police.
I jolted awake. Sweat poured down my face and back. What time was it? 11:58. Crap! I jumped up and hustled as quietly as possible downstairs, fumbling with my jacket as I went.
It was even chillier outside now, but quieter and darker as the neighborhood had settled down to sleep. I probably didn't need to be so stealthy as I crossed the yard to the fence, but the secretive nature of sneaking out at midnight made me feel on edge.
I walked to the spot where we had kissed earlier. This gave me a clear view of the back of her house as well. I checked my watch. 12:02. I didn't see Wendy. Maybe she fell asleep. Maybe her Mother did something cruel to her after she found out she had been outside tonight! Maybe Wendy was lying inside, broken and bleeding!
I grabbed the top of the chain link fence in preparation to jump over, but I paused when I heard, "Do you have your lighter?" My heart skipped a beat. I gasped and nearly fell over, my momentum suddenly propelling me backwards instead of forwards.
"Geez, Wendy! you scared the crap outta me!"
She was dressed in her pajamas, some dark flannel pants with a print of some kind I couldn't make out in the dimness and a dark t-shirt of some chick band. She shivered.
'What are you doing out here without a coat?"
"Shh! Give me your lighter!"
"What?! No way! You have to tell me what's going on!"
"There's no time! Trust me!" Her eyes were pleading. I gazed into the pools of black, deep wells of spirit and fire. I sucked in my breath. Then absently my hand closed upon my lighter and pulled it from my pocket.
She swiped it and ran toward her house. "Don't follow me!" she called back. I wasn't sure if I should obey her. I jumped the fence easily and crept across her yard, hoping she would emerge and stop me before I got too close.
But I made it to her back door before she did. I pushed it open. There was a noise to my left. A door was open to the basement and it sounded like someone was fumbling around down there. There was a loud snore coming from further inside the house. If that was her mother, sound asleep, then Wendy was down there. A light streaked past the basement entrance; A flashlight beam.
"Wendy!" I whispered as loudly as I could. Nothing. I ventured further in. I made it to the bottom of the basement steps. I could see only what the flashlight illuminated down here. In a corner, Wendy's face was scrunched in effort.
The old houses in our neighborhood were still heated by ancient oil furnaces. Large tanks for the oil sat in basements, or just outside the houses with skinny copper tubes running into the furnaces. Many of the houses had converted to propane for cooking and some for heating, too. Wendy's still used the oil to heat. Her tank was in the basement.
'Wendy? What are you doing?" The distinct smell of diesel rose to my nostrils.
"See? We can just unhook the line and oil will spill everywhere! Then we can light it!"
"Wait. You're talking about burning down your own house?!"
"I told you not to follow me!"
"This is insane!"
"I told you to trust me! You do, don't you? I have a plan! It will be fine! Charlie. We both love fire! The doghouse was just a taste of what this will be!"
"Charlie you don't know what it's like living here! I've never had an friend, never had a life! I want to be free from HER! She's hit me, tried to drown me, tried to burn me, tried to strangle me, my own mother! I hate her!"
"Yeah, no one knew! This is it Charlie, my chance to be free! To make a new life for myself! To give her what she deserves!"
I sat and stared at her for a full minute. She had my lighter, there was already a pool of oil on the floor, and I couldn't think of a better way to save her from her mother while I gazed into her desperate eyes.
She stared back into mine, leaning in, falling in. I was transfixed. She kissed me and I melted. I reached up for the back of her head, my tongue freeing itself from my mouth and searching hers for the physical relationship I so desired. She lost he balance and fell back into the oil tank with a dull thump. I broke our kiss.
"Crap! Will she wake up?"
"Nah, she's out cold, drunk."
"How will we get out once the fire is lit?"
"Well, we aren't going to light it. We are going to light the lantern." She pulled a lantern from the shadows beside her like a cartoon character pulls things from behind its back.
On our way upstairs she flipped the main breaker to the house. The hum of electricity that I hadn't noticed was there before suddenly stopped. It was eerily silent. Wendy stepped very close to me and whispered in my ear, "now you need to leave and wait for me." I nodded. I wanted out of there anyway.
I walked back to the fence. I watched as a form made a shadow across the back door. Then there was a flicker of light, a glow, then darkness. It was a few tense moments later when Wendy came running out, a plume of smoke following her.
"What did you do?"
She didn't answer, just grabbed my arm and pulled me at a desperate run to my house. "Act like you were up in the kitchen getting a drink, and take off your coat and shoes!" She hissed.
I went inside, took off my coat, hung it up, tossing my shoes by the door, and then opened the fridge. It must have been the cue she was looking for.
"Help! Somebody! Help! Call 911!" She shrieked, pounding her fists on the back door at the same time.
I saw my parents emerge from their bedroom next to the kitchen and I shut the fridge door, running with them across the kitchen to the back door where Wendy was in tears.
'What is it, dear?" My mother exclaimed, wide-eyed.
"Fire! My house!" Wendy pointed.
"Call 911!" my mother commanded. My Dad obeyed. I just stood there, dumbly, my alibi secure. Wendy was very cunning.