Juicy Fruit and Boo is a short story by Kathleen S. Allen, who also has a Jane Eyre mash-up called THORNFIELD MANOR: Jane Eyre and Vampires on FanFiction.net. You can find out more about her latest projects, where to buy her books, and Like her Facebook page via her website. She is also on Twitter at @kathleea. Enjoy!
Juicy Fruit and Boo
By Kathleen S. Allen
Liza stood on the edge of the curb and stared at the green light. Should she go or wait for the light to turn red?The walk sign flashed but she hesitated until a car honked. She stepped off the curb into oncoming traffic.
Someone grabbed her from behind. A girl with braids that stuck out like Pippi Longstocking’s.
“You da new kid on da block?” she asked. Liza nodded staring down the street at the line of cars trying to turn left.
“You got gum?” the Pippi girl asked. Liza nodded again rummaging in her pocket for a fresh piece. She held it out to the girl.
“What yo name girl?”
“Liza. What’s yours?”
“Joseyfine. Supposed to be Josephine but mama couldn't spell it right. Still can’t.” Only it came out ‘kaint’. Joseyfine popped the gum in mouth and chewed noisily. “You dint tell me it was Juicy Fruit. Its my fave.”
“Mine too,” Liza said even though it wasn't. She preferred bubble gum. Juicy Fruit had been her mom’s gum. The light turned and Joseyfine grabbed Liza’s hand to pull her across.
“Come on, we gotta run or get kilt.” Once they were on the other side Joseyfine let go of Liza’s hand. “Kin you blow bubbles?”
“I kin. Watch.” And much to Liza’s amazement, a huge yellow bubble came out of Joseyfine’s mouth. She popped it with her tongue and grinned at Liza. “See? Easy.” She eyed Liza’s too-big dress with disdain “That all you got to wear, girl? It too big.”
“It was my mother’s.”
“I don’t think so. Took off when I was little. It’s just me and my dad now.”
“He beat you?”
Liza was appalled at the question. “No. He just drinks a lot.”
Liza shrugged. “I guess.”
“Thing is, my ma is too. Once I pour her licker down the talet. She like tore my hide off. I don’t do that no more.” She smiled at Liza. “You wanna come play at my place? I gots jacks or we kin jump rope. We kin do double dutch.” Liza had no idea was ‘double-dutch’ was but she nodded.
* * *
Joseyfine was the double-dutch champion of the fourth grade. She had won blue ribbons and had competed nationally. Liza-the clumsy-wasn't very good at jump rope. She was more of an inside girl. A read-a-book-a-week girl. Joseyfine didn't read. She thought it was funny that Liza used Juicy Fruit gum as a bookmark. She’d snatch the gum from Liza’s book and pop it in her mouth before Liza could say anything.
“Yo mama teach you ta read?” Joseyfine asked leafing through the book.
“When I was three.”
“When she go?”
“The end of first grade. I came home from school and she was standing on the porch with a suitcase. She cried and told me to be careful. Then she left.”
“She don’t call?”
“No. My dad said she’s traveling all over Europe. One day I’ll just turn around and she’ll be there.”
“Yeah? You believe that shit?”
“No. Not really.”
* * *
Their fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Richard Richards---“Call me Dick Richards,” he laughed on their first day---wouldn't allow gum in his classroom.
At first the girls would only chew it at lunch then spit it out before class started. Then, it was only at recess. Then, whenever Mr. Richards had his head turned. Liza would look over at Joseyfine---she sat two rows across and one seat up---and nod. The two of them would pop a piece in their mouth and chew furiously for several minutes until he turned around. If there was time the gum would go back in the wrapper---the foil piece so it wouldn't stick---or swallowed quickly.
One of the Jennifers in class---there were four of them that year---hated her. Liza had just rolled a piece of JF up and stuck it in her desk. The desk was the kind that lifted up so you could put your books inside. Liza’s had gum in hers. Jennifer’s hand went up high in the air.
“Mr. Richards, Liza has gum in her desk. She chews it when you are writing on the board.” Liza glared at the back of Jennifer’s head.
“Liza? Is that true?”
Liza nodded. Joseyfine looked panicked. Her eyes wild with terror.
“Stay after the bell rings.”
She got after school detention. A note to her dad. She had to clean all the desks with a toothbrush.
Joseyfine stayed away from Liza after that. She still chewed with abandon but Mr. Richards ignored her. He kept an eagle eye on Liza instead.
At recess Joseyfine played with the Jennifers now. They glared at Liza whenever she walked by them. They popped enormous bubbles and giggled when gum got all over their mouths.
Liza was determined to get all “A’s” this year and ended up on the honor roll. At the end-of-the-year assembly, Liza got an award for her academic achievement. Joseyfine and the Jennifers giggled and blew yellowish bubbles at her when she accepted her award from the principal.
* * *
Last recess of the year Liza stood near the fence watching some kids toss a ball around.
“Yo,” said a voice. “You got gum?”
Liza shook her head. “Sorry. I stopped chewing it. It was making my jaw hurt. I never liked the taste anyway.”
Joseyfine looked at her with her head tipped sideways. “That yer mama’s dress?” She pointed to Liza’s dress.
“It’s mine. I picked it out.”
“Better ‘n yer mama’s. Her dresses be weird ugly shit.”
Liza felt tears sting her eyes. “My mother had good taste.” Had. Not has.
“Why she leave you then? Seems like she had better fish ter fry.”
“She loved me,” Liza said.
“Yeah? Funny way to show by takin’ off, ain't it?”Funny way.
* * *
Liza looked for Joseyfine on the first day of middle school when they had to register for classes but didn't see her.
A snatch of a song drifted to Liza’s ears. “Me and You and a dog named Boo.” Liza’s dad used to sing that to her mom---named Barbara but called Boo--- as a joke. It was a song from the sixties when he and Boo grew up. Now some girl was singing it softly under her breath.
“How do you know that song?” she asked the girl.
The girl shrugged. “My dad plays old albums constantly.” The girl looked at Liza. “Do you know where Room 222 is?”
“No, but I think there’s a map on the back of our schedule. Survival Skills?”
“Yeah. We get to learn how to cook and crap like that. Not that I need it.”
“You can cook?”
“Sure, my parents own a restaurant downtown. Been cookin’ as long as I remember. You cook?”
Liza shook her head. “No. I was always afraid I’d burn myself.”
“Got any gum, Liza?”
Liza’s eyes widened. “Gum?”
“Sure, I like Juicy Fruit the best, don’t you?”
“Sorry. No gum.”
“I’ll bring us some tomorrow.”
“Get going girls, the late bell is about to ring. Be careful on the stairs.”
Liza turned her head to stare at the teacher who spoke to them. For an instant she looked like Boo. Or rather like the Boo Liza remembered before she left.
“Come on, we’re gonna be late,” Sarah said as she sprinted up the stairs two at a time. Liza followed her.