The Laurel Park Place Mall was hopping. It was late afternoon on a Friday. School was out for the summer. Big and little kids were everywhere. Women flocked to the newly opened Jacobson’s to shop at the largest store in the chain to buy wonderful clothing such as furs on sale or expensive summer dresses or maybe even a Pablo Picasso sweater. The mall was an enclosed building catering to Livonia and beyond. It had opened the prior year, and there was still a newness buzz about it despite only having one anchor store. It was day 250 for the diplomats held in Iran, but no one at this mecca minded.
The mall had another draw. Across a fifteen-foot walk outside was an office building that also housed a new ten-screen movie theater. Valerie and Augustus Valentine had gone to the mall for dinner and a movie. Mom was forcing Olga’s Kitchen on Aug. Aug wanted either Leo’s Coney Island or Little Sleazer’s Delicatezza. Valerie had also forced shopping on her son. She had taken a long time to slowly wander through Jakes, Gantos and Winkleman’s, all the while asking Augustus what he thought about a ton of clothes that he could care less about.
Valerie’s hair and clothes were radical for her. Her Farrah hair was now cropped into a short pert coif. It was an acknowledgment of growth. The shorter and more discreetly styled the hair meant that the larger the growth to maturity as a human had occurred. It was a summer Friday night with her son. She had chosen blue jean wear that was discreet if not a bit baggy on her petite size. For now, formfitting Friday felt unnecessary. For now the need for nonverbal flattery from men was gone.
Val finally decided it was time for them to eat. The line for Olga’s extended out into the mall. Valerie fidgeted with her son’s hair while they waited in line. It was too thick for her liking. Many things were too thick for her liking. It was time to thin them out.
“Auggie, dear,” she opined, “you need a haircut. We should get that taken care of soon.”
“Awww, Mom, cut it out. I like it this way. I like having my hair thick” was his reply as he pushed her hand away. This whole evening out was annoying to him. Aug’s friends were out causing trouble, and he wanted to join them. He did not want to waste Friday at the mall and a movie with Mom. If nothing else, one of them should be home with Dad—although the Tigers were on tonight, and Dad had a bootleg view of them on PASS. But here she was, buzz-killing his Friday night. His teen angst was blooming. Aug was torn between the onus of family obligation versus the desire to party.
Both mother and son had acquaintances who said hello to them while they slowly moved forward in line. They were perfunctory hellos that let Valerie look at purchases her neighbors had made at stores and which also allowed for brief chitchat. Obligatory questions of how Vitellius was progressing were asked. Would he ever walk again? And how was the court case proceeding? Had the News and Free Press really been correct in what they reported in the papers? What did Valerie think about the other woman? These were reconnaissance questions designed for information gathering for dissemination throughout the local housewives’ guild. Valerie’s answers were carefully guarded.
The answers to the questions that the neighbors asked changed Aug’s life in the last year. The way he was looked at in school by his peers had changed. He was now the son of a juicy-gossip family. Before the car crash, he had been the son of a seemingly crazy but at least respectable family. The family was respectable in the fact that they had a nice house near the golf course and, therefore, that meant money. The family was crazy because Vi hardly ever seemed to be at his union job and the hot mother didn’t work. That left them time to play.
Before the accident, other parents welcomed Aug into their houses. After the accident, parents would still allow him through their threshold with the offspring, but the reception was chilled. Mothers certainly did not want their daughters to have him as a friend. This was a “no future” child in their eyes, and mothers know best about such matters.
The true answers to the questions were what Valerie’s life was, and she was not about to share the answers. Youth, beauty, and fertility were still possessed. It was time to get away from the rumors that had chased her for years. The past would always haunt her to some degree, and maybe she had not always learned from her mistakes. But that did not mean she had to face today over and over the rest of her life.
They were close to entering Olga’s when Aug suddenly lurched forward a couple of steps. He was propelled by two hands on his back. The propelling was courtesy of Steve Champion.
“Auggie, buddy,” Steve said. He proceeded to grab Aug in a headlock and give him a noogie. Aug fought back, and soon they were playfully slapping at each other. Mike Champion joined in, and the six arms flailing bothered everyone in line. Aug was still shorter than Steve and Mike, which gave them the upper hand.
“BOYS! Quit that! Honestly! This is no place for that behavior. Where are you manners?” Valerie started apologizing to the other people in line while the boys backed down.
“Awww, hello, Mrs. Valentine,” Mike replied. “We’re just funning around.” Mike grabbed Aug’s head and started knuckling Aug’s skull again. Aug broke free and started another round of hand slapping.
Mike was the older of the brothers. They were a couple of grade C spartans at Adlai Stevenson. Mike was a senior, and Steve was a junior. Together they made a happy-go-lucky Mutt and Jeff sort, although some suggested that they were a white Amos and Andy. They dressed the part. They wore cutoff blue jeans and T-shirts that said Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. Steve was also sporting broken eye capillaries.
“STOP IT!” Valerie stepped in and broke them up with a display of disapproval. She looked at Steve. “Well, it’s obvious to see that you’ve been in some other fights, Steve. Where did you get the black eye?”
Aug chimed in with a snorting laugh, “He got his ass kicked at the drive-in the other night!”
“Did not! I whupped his ass! That was a good fight!” Steve was grinning ear to ear.
Mike chimed in,“You got yer ass kicked, and you know it!”The Three Stooges routine started again. Valerie had endured enough.
Valerie tagged the two brothers and then turned her attention to her son. Valerie sternly berated her child. “Aug! Is that what you’ve been up to! Getting in fights at the drive-in? I hope you haven’t been drinking there or doing anything else!”
Aug protested. “M-o-ah-o-m! I didn’t do nothing. I was in the car, and we was watchin’ the movie. All of a sudden, there was a huge crowd outside; and when we went to check it out, Steve was dukin’ it out with some other dude. Honest, I wasn’t doing nuthin’ wrong!” The perpetually grinning Steve and Mike chimed in, “Aww, he’s right, Mrs. Val. Little Auggie wasn’t doing anything wrong. He’s too fragile. He’s too scared. He was hiding under the car seat. He’s just a little sissy boy.”
It was then that the line mercifully let Valerie usher Aug in for dinner while the Champions went off to chase schoolgirls or something around the mall. The Valentines took a barstool table for two at the perimeter of Olga’s. The restaurant was separated from the mall pathway by a four-foot wooden rectangle that kept the patrons in. Olivia Neutron Bomb was in “Xanadu” on the restaurant speakers.
Aug sat and idly looked around the mall. Unique Leather was behind him. The Coffee Beanery was in front of him, and Meyer Jewelers was across the way. His gaze came back from the jewelry store and stopped at the attractive young blond chickie working the sunglass kiosk. The kiosk was next to the gumball-machine area. The mall had an oblong setup of fifteen different gumball machines with all sorts of different flavors.
The chickie thought young Aug was kind of cute. She smiled at him as she drank from a Big Gulp and played with her display of shades and other jewelry baubles like cheap earrings and bracelets.
Mom found her son’s eyeball flirtation amusing as she fidgeted with her wedding ring. “Aug, you really need some different friends than people like those two hoodlums.”
Aug tried arguing.“Mom, Steve and Mike aren’t hoodlums! They’re just a lot of fun to hang out with. Besides, you and Dad really should talk about hanging out with hoodlums!”
Valerie snapped at her son, “Aug! Stop that. I won’t have you talking about your parents in such a manner.” Her tone softened. “Honey, what I meant was that, well, like, what are Steve and Mike going to do with themselves after they get out of high school? I mean, you’re getting older now. You’re going to have to think about your future at some point. What are you going to do? Hang out with the Champion brothers all your life?”
Aug answered, “Aw, Steve and Mike are going to go into the army. They signed up for the Delayed Entry Program. They’ll be all right.”
Valerie came back with “And you? What do you think you are going to do? Go into the army too? Don’t you have more ambition than that? Dear, you have to do well in school and get a degree and go into business if you want to make it somewhere. You know, if this last year should have taught you anything, it should be that your dad and I won’t be around forever, you know.” She looked down a moment and then at her next generation. She grabbed his hands and, sighing, spoke. “Honey, I love you, and I don’t want you to make the same mistakes that your—” She caught her voice a second and resolutely continued, “I don’t want you to make the same mistakes that your parents made.”
Augustus was not amused. “Geez, Mom, I’ll be all right. What’s yer worry? It’s not like I’m a total screwup or somethin’, ya know.”
Valerie gave her child a motherly look, and she looked at her watch. “Dear, it’s getting near showtime. What do you want to see, The Shining or The Empire Strikes Back?”
Aug made his play. “Aww, Mom, let’s not go to the flicks. I don’t wantta see either of those. Let’s go home and see how Dad is doing. He shouldn’t be there all alone. One of us should be with him in case he needs some help with something.”
Valerie silently looked down. Emotion welled up inside her. She looked at her son drink his soda. She remembered his birth. She remembered him running around the house as a toddler. She remembered so many things prior to that. Quietly, she inhaled deeply and gathered herself. “Aug, dear, there is something we need to talk about.” She took a deep breath. “Aug, we’re leaving your father.” The soda went down the wrong throat. Aug chokingly got out a “What? What are you talking about? What do you mean?”
Valerie answered. “I mean exactly what I said. You and I are leaving your father. We’re moving. Next week. We’re moving in with your Uncle Mark in Philly.” She paused as Aug looked at her. “Aug, dear, it’s a done deal.”
Aug protested, “But, Mom! What will Dad do?”
Valerie replied, “Aug, your”—she momentarily choked up—“your father will be all right. I’m sure he will be taken care of. But you know, there are a lot of things I’ve put up with over the years, and, Aug, I know how hard this is for you to understand. You are so young still. But . . . well . . . your father never needed anyone but himself. I used to love him, and in a way, I still do . . . but . . . over the years, he has taken advantage of me, and I have had to put up with it, but I can’t do this anymore. You know, I wasn’t much older than you are now when I became pregnant with you, and I was so young, and things were . . . well . . . things were different than they are now. But he has never really been straight with me, and now . . . now he has made us outcasts, and I can’t do this anymore.” There was a truly pregnant pause. Valerie looked off, and tears came to her eyes. “Aug, I’m pregnant, and it will start showing soon. The baby is not your father’s, and I can’t go through all the . . . all the things that I’ll go through with all the people who used to be my friends and stuff. I need to go, and, honey, you need a change too! You can go to a new school where people don’t know what has happened here, and you can get a new start on things. Your uncle loves you and will be happy to have you around, and he’s got other family too that you like. It’ll be fun, and you’ll be much happier, trust me. And you’ll have a baby brother or sister to enjoy too.” That was it, she thought. The bomb was exploded. Mother and son silently stared at each other. Valerie averted her gaze to the front counter.
Val started talking again. “Honey, it’s almost showtime. We need to get moving. I’ll pay the bill, and we can talk about this on the walk over to the theater. You think about it, and I’ll be right back.”
Aug was floored. He was speechless as the recognition of her plan slowly sank in. Mom had made up their minds, and Dad did not know. The whole shopping trip had been a ruse. From his point of view, all he could see was that Mom was going to screw Dad over. He had made the journey from T-Ball to Little League a long time ago. Now he was getting a taste of a bigger league. Bigger leagues mean bigger costs, and now it was time to pay the bill and go to the movies.
Aug sat on his stool looking at the people in the mall. Ma had gone to pay the bill. He saw many people talking and laughing and people with bags walking around. They did not exist to him. The sunglass salesgirl smiled sweetly at him. He dumbly looked ahead. This would all be gone soon. Everything and everyone would be gone. When they had walked into Olga’s, he had been focused on how to get out and party with his friends for the evening. Now he was going to be rapidly reduced to farewells. It was a youthful taste of surrealism. Aug’s numbed gaze saw Mike Champion walking across the mall floors by the park benches opposite the kiosks. Mike’s gait was rapid. He barely could control his own laughter. Mike was coming from the direction of Meyer’s jewelry store. He saw Aug seated at Olga’s. Mike winked at Aug and rapidly turned the corner.
Aug’s head rotated ninety degrees. Mike was up to something. This meant that Steve was up to something. Steve had to be somewhere. Aug’s eyes found him on the far side of the jewelry store. Steve was hanging out near a mall map that was near empty stores that would be opening soon. He had a devious grin on his face. The construction cut down Steve’s view of what was coming around the corner. To Aug’s eyes, the situation moved in slow motion. Steve was down one exit leg of the mall. Hidden to his view was a security guard lazily walking up the center aisle of the mall. The guard was clearing by Coopersmith Books and Y Not Yogurt. A lady in Meyer’s was being presented some watches to look at. Steve couldn’t see it, but Aug knew what was coming.
Steve ran into Meyer’s and busted into the shopper. He shoved her aside. Her grabbed the watches and took off. The reflexive screams caught the attention of everyone who was within earshot. Sunglass girlie stood up with drink in hand and stepped around from her kiosk to see what the hubbub was. She found out face-first as she stepped into Steve’s path.
Steve barreled into her. The Big Gulp went flying and covered the chickie. Steve was stunned—but not from the physical contact. His view was of a hot wet girl lying on the floor in front of him with her legs opened. Her shirt was very wet. Steve forgot that he had just robbed a store fifteen feet away. He had to smile and apologize and try to help her up and to brush the liquid off her. Ms. Sales Girlie was in no mood for his help. “Get your hands off me, you . . . !” she screamed and started swinging at Steve. Steve started laughing as he parried her swings at his head.
Mall security was less chivalrous. Steve was in mid-apology after helping her to her feet when he realized that he was about to be tackled by a rather large male. Steve toreadored aside and reached over to the glasses and jewelry display. He pulled it down on the guard and the salesgirl. Merchandise flew everywhere.
Steve spun and looked to run out. The security man grabbed his ankle and tripped him. Steve fell forward into the gumball display. The security guard hopped up and unhooked his flashlight from his belt. He started cursing at Steve during this motion. The guard violently swung the flashlight at Steve’s head. Steve managed to get his skull out of the way, but the Atomic Fireball gumball case was not so fortunate. The flashlight smashed the glass, and gumballs spilled out everywhere. Steve’s eyes got big as he realized that the dude meant business. He was caught off guard, and he caught a shoe to the gut. A hand grabbed his shirt and lifted Steve. “Your ass is mine” entered his ears.
Aug hopped over the wooden barrier at Olga’s. The security man picked Steve up by his shirt and laid him on the gumball machines. He raised the flashlight to deliver a big blow only to find he had Aug on his back holding his arm from swinging. The security guard tried flinging Aug off his back. Steve saw the opportunity to punch the security man in the nads as hard as he could. The blow glanced into the thigh and nothing happened. So Steve reached both hands out and grabbed more jewels and squeezed as hard as he could. The scream scared everyone in the mall, and the security guard collapsed, grabbing his family heirlooms.
Aug and Steve looked at each other and knew it was time to go. Steve hopped up and gave the security guard a kick in the ass before running down the exit aisle. They hightailed it to the exit facing the movie theater. Some men followed. Steve and Aug reached the doors and exited. Across the walk, security was coming through the door from the movie theater building. A green Skylark’s tires squealed and pulled up between the groups. Steve yelled, “Shotgun!” and both he and Aug barely made it into the vehicle. Mike was not waiting around, and as soon as the car doors were opened, he took off while the boys scrambled to get in.
They blew across 6 Mile down Bloomfield heading toward Greenwood Park. The roads worm all over the place, and it is easy to get hidden. Such is life in the white flight suburb of Livonia where the middle class escaped the morass that the city of Detroit had become. Steve gave high fives to Mike and Aug. He let out whoops of joy. “Oh man,” he exclaimed. “I about peed my pants back there!” He turned and looked at Aug. “Auggie! Dude! You saved my ass back there! Oh man!”
Mike looked at Steve and Aug. He asked Steve, “What the hell happened back there? I thought you got nailed. I kept waiting and waiting in the car. I thought sure I was going to have to try and bail you out of jail tonight.”
Steve informed Mike,“Brother, man, I shoulda been nailed.” He reached back and started rubbing Aug through his hair. “Our adopted brother here saved my ass. If it weren’t for him, I woulda been nailed!” Steve leaned back in his seat and then raised the upper half of his body out the window and let out a “Woo-hoo!” exclamation. He fell back in the seat and continued explaining to Mike. “Man, I grabbed the watches, and I was running out and that hot chick with the big ol’ titties that sells sunglasses like stepped right in my way. Oh man, I tagged her. And she had like a Big Gulp that went all over her.” Steve used his arms and legs to give the visual. “An’ it was like she was lying there on the ground with her legs just wide open, and her shirt was all wet. It was . . . it was like allova sudden I was checking out Frank Zappa’s ‘Charming Mary from Canoga Park in her bid’ to win the fifty dollars!” Mike and Steve started laughing real hard. Aug didn’t get it.
Aug pointed to Steve’s right cheek. “Hey, you’ve got blood on your cheek.”
Steve wiped the back of his right hand across his right cheek. There was a little bit of blood on his hand. He cranked the rearview mirror around to look at his cheek. There was a slight scratch visible. Steve said, “I guess I must have scratched it on the gumball machine.
While Steve was occupied with the mirror, Mike cranked up the stereo a bit in honor of his “Problem Child” brother. Mike then grabbed back control of the rearview mirror and asked, “Gumball machine? So what happened?”
Aug cut in, “Oh man, your brother nearly got brained!”
Steve grinned and said, “Yeh, but I got a couple watches outta the deal!” With that he reached in his jean jacket pocket and pulled out three women’s watches that looked kinda nice to the boys.
Aug asked, “So what are they worth?”
Steve answered, “Hell if I know! Mike dared me to snatch whatever they were looking at. He didn’t think I had the balls to do it! WOO-HOO!” They shared a round of high fives.
Aug was stunned. He slapped Steve across the head. “You stupid shit! Oh man, if you’da gotten busted, wouldn’t that fuck with your army deal?”
Steve and Mike looked at each other and at Aug. Steve answered, “Yeah, sooooo, and your point is?”
Aug sat back. He knew they were crazy, but wow, this seemed a little too much. “Man, you got more balls than I do.” He thought about it. “Hell, you got more balls than that security guard!”
Mike looked at Steve and Aug. “What’s that supposed to mean? Hey, you need to finish the story!”
Steve said, “Oh yeah, well, like this chick was just all wet, an’ I helped her up and was wiping the pop off her titties and such, and she starts swingin’ at me, an’ I forgot what I was doin’ and just started laughin’. And this rent-a-pig came flyin’ at me from nowhere.” Aug butted in, “He didn’t come from nowhere. He was there the whole time. You just did a shit job of casin’ the area.”