“What we have here is an epidemic.” MK Buttermore knew how to take action; she’d summoned the seven girls from Schwann High School to the Pig&Soda Shoppe, for Saturday breakfast—and she’d called them with an agenda that needed tending to. “An epidemic of arrogance and self-centered stupidity.”
The faces at the round table stifled and blushed; everyone carried secrets, and their secrets connected to MK, but in ways they’d all believed to be on the down-low safe. MK intimidated them—she served as Class President; she was the daughter of the present Service Provider of the Year Winner and Executive Director of the Greater Lakes Region Food Pantry. MK held the Number One GPA spot in the senior class. Plus everyone acknowledged her as King Karson’s main squeeze.
Though the Pig&Soda Shoppe was famous for its low prices and its bacon and bar-b-que and its old-fashioned chocolate egg cream fountain drinks, no one at the table had yet taken a sip or a bite. MK waited for their orders to be served, thinking it best if everyone were stabilized with a bite of hickory bacon-sustenance before commencing. That didn’t appear to be happening.
MK noted the balk-reactions of the girls around the table, and she knew exactly what they were thinking. “Am I talking about King? Yes I am. Do I care about what you might have been doing with King? Yes, I do. But not today. Let me say it this way—I’m a firm believer in something my mama taught me: Smart people do smart things. You girls strike me as smarter than any boy schwinging at Schwann, so here’s what I propose: any territorial violations of the heart and body over the last few weeks? Right here and now, I’m declaring: they don’t mean a thing.”
Savannah Beale. Lily Nash. Valerie Clark. Maja Montoya. Georgia Genakos. Sandy Sanderson. Shealagh Kirwan. They all wanted to breathe, but they didn’t fully trust what they were hearing or inhaling. MK, publicly, comported herself with equanimity toward all—but when getting a difficult job done demanded someone with wrecking-ball-breaking abilities, then MK was widely considered a one-girl demolition crew. She could also underhand-pitch a softball through your bedroom window at 62 miles-per-hour. This proved to be a formidable skill that she would be further developing, while playing scholarship ball at Virginia Tech after graduation. MK’s skill set served a dual purpose: don’t be messing around with King Karson, and Lionel Buttermore, MK’s daddy, was owner of the only glass-window replacement company in the region. Interestingly, the softballs scattering glass on bedsheets were always unscuffed, and of a brand that the police claimed could not be shop-purchased anywhere inside of a hundred-mile local radius. Locals stayed loyal to Mizuno brand balls, though it was easy enough for someone to purchase Rawlings elsewhere and on-line.
MK hated what was happening—but this violation of order needed to end. Though she possessed an arsenal of changeups, drop-curves, rises and screws, MK stuck with the fastball: firing it right down the middle. “Ladies, this is the most miserable, blushing admission of my life: I have the clap. And, if the bragging-rights rumors that might have started with King himself are to be believed, then I’m guessing there might have been further conquest and transmission.”
Eyes dropped to laps all around the table. When the waitress finished hanging a Help Needed sign on the door and aimed at their table with a refill pot of coffee, MK’s death-stare made the woman’s white shoes squeak away with a speedy 180-degree pivot.
“Now, I know, STDs are not just bacterial infections—they also tend to carry social stigma. That’s why I’m stepping up to the rubber first, that’s why I’m just laying it all out there. I expect such unfortunate and personal news to remain closed subject between eight smart girls. Otherwise, you never know what might be middle-of-the-night shattering through the windows of your sleep.”
Shared shames and admissions rotated around the table. Shealagh, beneath her head of red curls, did not look up as she whispered, “I’ll tell you what wakes me up in the middle of the night: needing to pee, coupled with fear of peeing. The word tinkle is a bad joke—because my water burns. I’ve watched my father when he’s welding metals; peeing makes me think I’m hot-melting a bead down there with tin-lead solder wire.” Shealagh’s pale white skin flared to vermillion.
Valerie, a junior and a gymnast, contorted her head all the way back and looked at the ceiling when she spoke: “I never dreamed that something swampy and greenish-yellow would be discharging out of me.”
MK shook her head at the open confessions. She had begun swiftly, sniffing around the second she first felt pain and swelling in her pelvis. The aggravations that followed plagued her in the same demeaning ways as what Shealagh and Valerie described. She’d read up on infections and repercussions, and so she knew: she’d slept only with King, and he had to have squeezed it from somewhere else because it sure as hell didn’t start with her. MK spoke with the school nurse, demanding assistance and privacy that did not involve her parents. She listened in on whispered conversations behind her in the bleachers and classrooms, and she studied eyes and body language in the hallways. She gave King room to move around freely, but she kept him in view at all times. Over the course of a week MK had compiled a list of exchanged more-than-smiles and worried grimaces. Seven names garnered royal attention.
“That lousy, fast-car, long-hooded bastard.” The statement spilling out of Savannah was oily, vitriolic—and it shared a full understanding of was behind the wheel of symptoms haunting at least a couple of girls at the table. King drove a 1969 V-8 Pontiac Grand Prix; he’d asked for one specifically, and his rich daddy had vintage-delivered. King rode around town in style: famous for his good looks, his preppy-boy clothes, his bright green eyes, his athleticism, and his long extension of manhood.
They all understood. Valerie, though dark-skinned, appeared slightly darker, said her face felt like it was microwaving her neck bones. She blew out air when she said, “I’ve got the drips, too, dammit.”
Eight sets of eyes rose and looked around. Eight heads nodded, some mortified and beleaguered more than others. Sandy and Lily daubed at tears using their paper napkins. Maja mumbled curses in Spanish. Eggs and bacon and toast, along with specialty black cows and coffee, remained untouched on the table. Everyone’s hands lay in their laps, fingers woven together—another level of cover. MK understood from her reading that the issue rarely came with any kind of smell—pungent or otherwise—though it certainly could develop, in some unfortunate cases. Eight girls found an unhealthy connection in the new ring of empathy and angry boil.
The Class President took charge. The Four-Year Varsity Starter threw strikes in all the corners. MK began low in the zone, tossed a quick, no-nonsense medically-informed pitch: what to expect, where to go, how long it would last, what it all meant for the future. Then she threw a Rising Ball: women needing to do better by other women, in every facet of the game. She never once made accusation, complaint, or threat. She’d moved past reliance upon just the Fast Ball long before she’d even made it to tenth grade, and she understood finesse and intricacy and how to move the batters around.
Everyone was on MK’s team by the time she delivered the Drop Ball on King. She’d calculated her fair share, and found herself wanting: she’d been too caught up in the appearance of King Karson on her arm at the Homecoming Dance, made allowances for his spoiled and self-centered deceptions and antics. She’d liked King’s hood ornament better than the steering and the suspension, and that mistake was roundly on her. It was in her. Now, diplomat that she was, she sought input from all involved parties.
Everyone leaned in, sharing their razor-blade thoughts on cutting off more than just tire stems. MK had anticipated such a go-to pitch in the first round of discussions. She urged them to move into dark reality, to discover their own kind of gyro-spin on the Screwball.
Which is when Georgia finally spoke up. Georgia came from what everyone in town called a rough family. Which meant something foreboding when she gave them her own version of what MK would refer to henceforth as the Backdoor Curve: the pitch that comes in looking like it will take you out at the kneecaps before it busts up into the zone in a surprising strike. Georgia announced her wish for King, and the Ladies all agreed to make it come true: they would go and speak with Georgia’s cousin, Marlene, who she referred to as the black-leather sheep of the clan.
When King Karson groggily awoke, he found his wrists and ankles tied to a chair, bound with strong, soft, golden rope. He was naked, and in an unfamiliar room, with an unfamiliar woman standing before him. He’d watched all three Fifty Shades movies with various girls, though he couldn’t remember which girls those were at the moment. The stern but smiling woman wore a leather bustier, panties, and high heeled boots. She was dressed like what the movies had referred to as a dominatrix. She smoked a cigarette held in a long, black holder.
The last thing King remembered was eating a pork sandwich and drinking a Catawba Flip at the Pig&Soda Shoppe. He’d been with…MK? Or was it Marlene? But either way, King seemed to see a lot of different faces in the hazy frame above his plate and cole slaw. He sort of remembered his face wetly hitting the plate.
Something round as a socket bone blocked his mouth, held in place with what felt like the taut stretch of slingshot rubber bands.
The woman walked toward him, leaned over, and blew smoke in his face. “Flunitrazepam. What a nubile player like yourself calls roofies. Good for date rape-seduction, sedation, and muscle relaxation. Not that what I’m about to do to you is even remotely sedate or relaxed.”
King tried to curse and yell. He succeeded only in a muffled grunting. The chair he’d been tied to stood bolted to the floor. Frozen but flexible ice-pack wraps were secured around his privates with Velcro straps. He couldn’t feel the sores down there at the present moment, which wasn’t the relief he could have hoped for in that region. He didn’t have the slightest notion of who she was or where he was; King fought to rise out of confinement and sluggishness.
The woman plucked the cigarette out of the holder and flicked it away, still lit. King longed for that burning coal of heat. He felt numb and shriveled down below. King felt the chill carry ice all the way to his heart when she removed the cold packs and tossed them aside. The room was bowling alley strange—narrow, more long than wide. She then walked back to where she’d been standing earlier, maybe close to forty feet away, and placed the cigarette holder down on a table. She withdrew a softball from a basket upon a table; the basket brimmed with eight neon spheres. There was nothing else in the room. King recognized the color and brand name from the bedrooms of old flames: each one, a green Rawlings Official Fast Pitch Dream Seam.
The woman wearing the black leather getup picked up a second softball, extended the two toward King, holding them together with one long-fingered grip as she spoke: “I was pretty good at pitching softball when I was younger. Large hands helped. But even an old trick like me can learn new ways to put a hurting on a player crowding the plate. So: let’s see if I can get a riser out of what I’m humming your way. I hope you’re hale and hearty, bubba.”
King struggled, dully. He found himself tightly bound. The space in his lap felt fragile as a dangling icicle exposed to the sun. Nothing worked right, nothing was going his way.
The woman put one softball down, assumed a pitcher’s mound stance, saying, “Oh honey, don’t you know the rules? Sometimes you’ve just gotta take the hit if you want to walk.” Then she went into her windup.
All eight girls sat at the Pig&Soda Shoppe table, the same one they’d gathered around when they’d first chosen to unite and work together through the epidemic. In the weeks that had passed since their first meeting, the bad taste in their mouths from their early choices and the remedy of penicillin had finally faded; those had been a price they’d all suffered and accepted as part of their education. Over the course of that same time, their friendship had quickly grown. They were confident that it would continue. They gave orders, and they awarded the waitperson a healthy tip when she delivered black cows all-around to the table.
The Ladies looked out through the Shoppe’s squeaky clean picture windows at the new Corolla Hybrid parked in one of the employee parking spaces; they all applauded the change of heart and the green-smart choice of vehicles. They then proposed a toast, lifting their glasses in salute to the hollow-eyed boy working mutely behind the bar—the recently-hired soda jerk dressed in paper hat, bow tie and apron—who was prepared to bow and serve them in whatever ways they wanted.