Thor tried to bluff it out but I shook my head. “Forget it. Thanks for the effort though. I told you when I fulfilled my promise to the kids that I was going to hit the road. I’ve never said I would do anything else than that.” I was so tired. My arm was hurting, my head was hurting, now my heart was hurting. I really wasn’t prepared for what I knew was likely coming. But it was time to man up … er … woman up.
“I … oh brother … I don’t even know how to say any of this without making a mess of it,” I said horribly afraid I was only going to make everything worse.
“Try being honest. Thor said you’d been lying about something all along. All of us could tell there was something.” Chuckri wasn’t going to be put off. Now that it was time I didn’t want to be put it off but I didn’t know how to start. Oh well, start at the beginning I told myself.
“Either of you guys remember what first got the green freaks registered as domestic terrorists? Not just the individuals but the entire group?”
Alfonso nodded, “Yeah, that was that medication tampering case. Why?”
“OK, but do you remember what …”
“The Green War,” corrected Chuckri. “The medication tampering was just part of it.”
I nodded, still very uncomfortable. “You remember what the result of the medication tampering was?”
Alfonso said, “Sure, all those retarded kids got born.”
I winced. That was the stereotype that nearly everyone seemed to remember. As I tried to fish around for a way to say it Chuckri shook his head. “They weren’t all retarded but most of them had something genetically wrong with them. I thought they all died.”
That was ironic. I opened my mouth but it was another voice that everyone heard. A woman’s voice said, “Tavit, be nice. The children were called GWBs … Green War Babies … and most of them were not mentally challenged in the least unless it was already a predisposition in their family genetic makeup. Many of them did have some kind of genetic anomaly but roughly half of them looked perfectly normal. Many of the severely challenged children died before they were five years of age. Every year some would pass away but there were fewer deaths each year as the weaker ones either outgrew their weakness through therapy, or new therapies were found, or defects were surgically corrected.”
The woman had the kindest deep brown eyes I’ve ever seen. “My name is Elsapet. You’re eighteen aren’t you?”
She was older than Chuckri by a few years but she wore them well. I nodded.
“Forgive my brother, he doesn’t know.”
I was embarrassed. “He doesn’t need my forgiveness. If anything it is the other way around. I haven’t been honest. I hid what I was … am.”
“Hmmm,” she said. I wasn’t sure what it meant but she wasn’t laughing at me or being unkind despite her smile and the humor that lit her face. I thought she knows but Evans showed up. He looked bad. I mean as bad as I’d ever seen him. And there was something about his face that scared me.
I went to go to him but Chuckri grabbed my arm and spun me around. “Are you telling me that you’re one of them GWBs?!”
“Keep your voice down,” I told him. “Why do you think Thor and I were talking away from those weirdoes.”
“Tavit …” Elsapet said reproachfully.
“Enough.” Talk about your chauvinism coming out. “This boy is endangering out entire family … or what is left of it. You expect me to just …”
“Tavit,” she said again, this time sternly. “You are going to regret your tone brother.”
Chuckri took a deep breath and said, “I meant no disrespect to you Elsapet. I know you are very protective of children but this boy is …”
“Tavit …” she tried to start again but Evans finally broke in.
“That’s it,” he slurred. “I’m not standing for this nonsense no more.” He stepped into Chuckri’s personal spaced and poked him in the chest with his finger and said, “You touch my little girl and I rip you @#$% head off. Come on Annie, we don’t need them.”
I was in shock. Everyone one was in shock. He turned around and grabbed my arm to pull me but wound up stumbling and then as he went down grabbing his head.
“Evans!” I caught him as he went down, going to the ground with him when my arm screamed at the abuse.
“No sass girl. I mean it. And no reason you can’t go back to calling me Pap now that they know.” His voice grew weaker and weaker until he was silent and unconscious after his last word.
“Richards!” I screamed forgetting to modulate my voice to make it sound more male. Elsapet bent over and was lifting Evans’ eye lids and examining him closely. Richard showed up and dropped down. And together with Elsapet they took him from my arms and then laid him on the ground.
“Come on Rocky,” Thor said as he tried to life me up but I shook him off. He bent down and gently … for him anyway … told me, “Come on Kid, give them some room to work. I know you want to help but right now you’re in the way.”
I finally let him help me up. I was shaking. I couldn’t help it. “He called me Annie,” I whispered to no one in particular.
Thor asked quietly, “You know who Annie is?”
I nodded my head. “He … he told me. It was after … after … those girls. He was trying to explain that bad things just sometimes happened and … Oh Lord, what’s wrong? Why would he call me by her name?”
No one answered me. Instead Chuckri and Alfonso looked at me in shock. “Yeah … why would he call you by a girl’s name?”
I swallowed, really not wanting to pay attention to anything but what was happening down on the ground. “I … I hadn’t gotten to that part yet.”
Elsapet looked up and said, “Be gentle brother or you will become very unhappy.”
I just shook my head. “Not his fault. None of it is his fault or the others either. I didn’t mean for anyone to know.”
Alfonso looking at me like I had three heads asked, “Want us to know what … exactly?”
As I watched Evans’ face get even grayer than it was before I said, “My name really is Rocky Charbonneau and I really did play football in highschool. And yes, I’m really a GWB. As a matter of fact, I’m the last GWB. The very last. The rest are dead. The … the greenies … or someone dressed like them … they came to our … we … we were having a … a party … all of us that had lived to see eighteen. In San Francisco … they … they gassed everybody … except for me and … and my best friend …” I looked at Thor. “I can’t do this again. I … I can’t.” I wasn’t sure whether it was telling the story that I couldn’t do or whether it was watching someone else I cared about die. Because that is what was happening.
Richards must have heard me because he said, “He’s just unconscious Rocky. We’re going to take him to the house and make sure he is stable. Chuckri’s sister is a doctor.”
“Researcher,” she corrected.
“Researcher, doctor … either way you have more knowledge than I do.”
She bowed her head at his compliment and even though I tried to help I was waived off as Montgomery and Barkley came up with an improvised stretcher. Richards stopped me and then looked at Thor. “Keep her out here for a while. I need to see how Evans is going to react when he regains consciousness. I want to keep him as calm as possible.”
Thor looked at me like he expected me to fight about it. I asked, “Richards?”
“Rocky, we’ll do everything we can.”
“Yeah, I know that … just … just if he acts upset or something … tell him it didn’t bother me. Being called Annie. He’s always looked after me … you know?” Richards nodded in understanding.
“Kid?” Thor was asking without asking if I was OK. I didn’t know what to tell him.
I must have been standing around zoning longer than I thought because when I turned back around all of them men were there and a few of Chuckri’s family as well.
“Come to stare at the freak?” I muttered under my breath and turned and found myself nearly face to face with a young man roughly my size.
He smiled and I saw that he may have looked a whole lot like Chuckri but he had his Aunt Elsapet’s eyes. “Hi. My name is Pilbos.”
“Uh … hi.”
“So what’s the story or are you going to leave us hanging?”
I just looked at him. “C’mon. So your name is Rocky but you’re a girl. Doesn’t compute for me. What about the rest of you?” he asked looking at two other young men.
“Pilbos,” they said warningly at the same time.
I shook my head trying to clear it. “No, it’s OK. I’ve been called Rocky my whole life. It really is what I answer to best of anything. Even the doctors and nurses that delivered me called me that. It was a joke. I don’t think they meant it to be mean. No one at the time really knew how … how true it was going to be.” I shrugged. “On my birth certificate it says Rochelle … Rochelle Ghislaine Charbonneau. But … please, just call me Rocky. It’s always fit me better.”
“And the football stuff,” he started with a wicked gleam in his eyes. “You … you wouldn’t have just happened to play for the Cavaliers would you?”
I turned around and really looked at him for the first time. “Oh great,” I sighed. “Tell me I didn’t flatten a friend of yours or something like that.”
He snickered, “Our coach was having kittens when you guys made state last year. He hated you.”
“I’m honored I’m sure,” I said not knowing what else to say.
The lunatic just laughed. “No … seriously. It was great. I mean really great. You got me a date with Margaret Hanley because I stuck up for you.”
I looked at Thor not quite sure what to make of what was happening. Apparently his older brothers were used to Pilbos turning strange as they both looked like they wanted to drop him down a deep hole some place.
“I’m Tovmas. Please ignore our baby brother. He was dropped too often on his head.”
“Yeah … I’m sensing that.” That only made Pilbos laugh harder.
“See! I told you. She could kick butt! Freight Train ruled the field.”
Now it was my turn to want to crawl in a hole. “I didn’t rule the field. I got knocked on my can plenty of times. Cut it out. I know you’re … well I … I guess you’re trying to be nice … but I’ve got enough problems without you bringing up a past that is dead and buried,” and then I paused and it came out before I could stop it, “… just like everything else in my life.”
That shut him up, or it did after Tovmas and the other young man punched him in the shoulder a couple of times.
Montgomery came up and looked at me like I was a bug under a microscope. “You sure you’re a girl?”
I sighed and looked at him, “No. It’s been put to scientific debate and no one else is quite sure and since I was allowed to pick …”
“Seriously?” Alfonso asked. I just rolled my eyes and tried to walk away but Thor stepped in front of me.
“Time for the telling Kid. Just get it all out and maybe by that time Richards will let you go see Evans.”
So I told it. From the night in San Francisco, Jonathon and I escaping and picking up his grandmother, their deaths, and then thinking that being a guy was bound to be safer as I tried to get home than being a girl was … even one like me. How I hadn’t expected to actually like any of them and how the lying got to be harder and harder but that once I had started hoeing that row I hadn’t known how to stop. How I didn’t tell Evans, Richards, or Thor that they just figured it out … except for the GWB part. That I’d told to Thor because he was the leader and I’d felt obligated.
I made sure to explain that the three men had only kept my confidence because I’d asked them to because when the Greenies started showing up again I’d gotten worried and hadn’t wanted to endanger anyone else.
“But you did, didn’t you.”
Chuckri’s voice cut right through me. “I … I didn’t know your ex was one of them Chuckri.”
Pilbos broke in and asked, “Why do you call him Chuckri? Half of us will …”
I was losing patience. I was shook up enough as it was and this guy might have been my age but he reminded me rather forcefully of the goofballs that I had gone to school with that always seemed to lag behind the maturity meter by a few years. “OK, before you ask, I didn’t know his name was Tavit before today. Two, I haven’t been given permission to use that name. Three, are you trying to annoy me on purpose? Cause it’s working.”
Tovmas and the other young man tried to hide their laughter behind their hand. Pilbos just smiled. “I get that a lot.”
“No kidding. Can’t imagine why,” I huffed going to stand closer to Thor just because I wanted to. So what if I was all but hiding behind him. I felt exposed and he was the only thing big enough close at hand that I could use as a visual barrier.
“You OK Rochelle?” Thor asked.
“How many times do I have to tell you it’s Rocky.”
“I asked a question Ro-chelle.”
“Rock-ee. It’s real simple. Or like Pilbos were you dropped on your head too many times as a baby?”
This time it was Alfonso and Barkley that tried to hide their smiles.
Chuckri still wasn’t satisfied. I could see him looking at me like he’d never seen me before and wasn’t at all sure that he liked what he was seeing now. I didn’t blame him. There was some issues that hadn’t been resolved and I’m sure finding out that he’d hit a girl … all be it one that had been pretending to be a boy … bothered him more than a little bit. It must have been at that moment that the same thought finally penetrated the thoughts of the other men.
“Wait … oh … aw man …” Montgomery said.
“Guys, don’t … please. All of that is cool. You didn’t know. I didn’t want you to know. It’s not like I’m some helpless young thang. Look at me. I might not be quite as bulked up as when I was playing football but I’m still quite capable of holding my own. And besides,” I told them trying to assuage their male pride that I know was starting to pinch, “It’s not like you guys ever gave me everything you had. You were pretty easy on me compared to what you could have done.”
It didn’t matter what I said however because Chuckri said, “My family doesn’t need any more trouble.”
And with those words I knew that not only did his family not need any more trouble, I couldn’t stand to take the risk of bringing more trouble to them. I couldn’t stand the idea of bringing trouble to anyone.
I heard, “Rocky.”
I turned to see Elsapet and she said, “Dr. Richards said you can come to the house. Go in through the front door and then down the long hall. You will find a small room in the back.”
I took off at a run, not caring if the conversation with the men was over or not. I stopped short before walking onto the porch. My grandmother had always disliked when I forgot to at least try and not sound like a herd of elephants when I was in the house. I’d finally learned to actively think about my size when I was five and nearly knocked over her prized tiffany lamp.
I continued to try and walk gently to the back of the house and then to the room Elsapet had told me about. The curtains were closed but the shades had not been dropped so daylight still came in, but it was a honey colored light that matched the shears.
“No need to act like I’m dying Kid. Although after the fool way I acted you might wish I was.”
I fell down to my knees beside the sofa and told Evans, “Don’t you ever say that! Not ever again!”
“Whoa now, what’s all this fuss about?”
I sniffed back the tears that continued to threaten. “You nearly scared me out of a year’s growth, that’s what happened.”
A muted twinkle was visible in his eyes when he responded, “All things considered that musta been some scare.”
I gave a watery chuckle and finally started feeling better. “Yes, it was. Don’t do it again.”
“Did I … did I mess things up for ya? Seems to me this might not have been the best time for things to come out.” I could see he was tired and not in a good way.
“Don’t worry about it. The lying had to stop at some point.”
“You know what I’m saying Kid. You and I both know those chowder heads I crew with are going to give you are hard time if for no other reason than because you was able to fool ‘em so well for so long … and would have kept on foolin’ ‘em if Chuckri hadn’t been nosing around to find out what you and Thor was talkin’ about.”
I shook my head. “It’s not Chuckri’s fault. He has a responsibility to his family.”
“Humph. He’s also still got responsibilities to this crew.”
I said quietly, “Evans … you know I’ve never really been a member of the crew. And you know … you know I needed to leave at some point and this being the most likely point.”
“Now just hold on a sec. You and me was gonna go fishing. You going back on it?”
“It’s … it’s not that I’m going back on it and you know it if you’ll just think about it like I’m not some stray you’ve picked up and determined to look after.” I shook my head when he started to talk. “I respect you a lot but you don’t know these people Evans. They’re never going to stop coming after me it seems … or after what I represent to them. They’ll destroy anyone I’m with.”
“And just what in the sam hill is that supposed to mean?” he asked still upset.
“Jonathon … you know, my friend … we used to talk about it. It never made sense the way people always explained it to us. Why did the greenies hate us so much? Why did they keep making the threats? They went on to other schemes and by continuing to bring the GWBs up over and over again it just made them look bad. Why would they do it?”
He shook his head, “Aw Kid, them people is all nuts. Why do they do any of the stuff they do?”
“Actually some of the stuff they do does make sense if you are all into that earth-worshiping/people-hating stuff. But the other, constantly harping on the GWBs just doesn’t fit. Unless …”
He asked, “Unless what?”
“Think about it. We were their failure. As far as anyone seems to have been able to determine that terrorism with the prenatal vitamins was their first major act as a cohesive group; before it was really little more than a bunch of fanatic cells that would get together, support each other’s blogs and occasionally to a little protesting. But with that act of terrorism they united. And it was a failure. Maybe not an unqualified failure but it was a failure nonetheless. And they’d alerted the public about how far they were willing to go before they were really ready to perform optimally. We – the GWBs – were an embarrassment. We were like a scar or a sore that they just couldn’t stop picking at.”
“Kid,” he said. “If they’s like everyone else most of ‘em are dead.”
“Maybe they are. But enough of them aren’t. And it looks like they are trying to reform and continue their work. Look at the greenies here. What I’d really like to know is how they knew to come here; to gather and start their work over.”
I looked up but Evans had drifted back to sleep. I worriedly asked Richards, “Did I talk too much? Did I wear him out?”
Richards shook his head. “No. Rocky, come out to the porch with me. Elsapet is just across the hall and she’ll call us if he wakes back up.”
He took me out a different way to a screened in porch on the back of the house that looked towards the river. “So … cat’s out of the bag.”
I shrugged, “It was bound to happen.”
“Are you sorry?”
I shrugged again. “Like I said, it was bound to happen. I wish it could have happened different but it didn’t.”
“Give them time. They’ll come around Kid, you just need to give them some room to do it in.”
This time I sighed. “There isn’t time for that. I wish there was. I’d like to know for sure that they forgive me but I don’t have that luxury. More of those greenies are coming. If they think that I’m here, the last of my kind, they won’t stop until I’m dead.”
“Hey now,” he said concerned. “That’s exaggerating surely.”
“No Richards it isn’t. You didn’t see what those people did to all of my friends and family in San Francisco. When I die so will the stain on their honor … or whatever the heck you call it. They’ll look at it like they are finishing what they started eighteen years ago. Some of them are just that crazy.”
“No, listen, I’ve been thinking this out. I have the leaders pegged. There are five of them, that’s plenty but I think I can still handle them. I’m going to pack my gear and take the wagon … it isn’t looking too healthy anyway; I figure it has maybe a hundred miles left in it before it really rattles apart. Those two nags pulling it aren’t much better. I put the five baddies in the wagon and I just drive away. I’ll … I’ll take them as far away from here as I can. Without the leaders the group will fall apart. And if we’re really lucky the other ones coming this way will think they’ve got a bigger fish to fry in me and not come to here after all, but come after me instead.”
I was rather happy at having found a solution but the look on Richards face was one of total outrage. “Now look,” I told him. “I know I really need to knock some of the rough edges off of the plan but …”
“I’ll knock some rough edges off all right, but it won’t be off of that idiotic plan.” Thor’s growl had me nearly jumping out of my skin.
“Do you listen at keyholes too?!” I snarled at him, embarrassed that he’d heard me sounding so pathetic.
“I do plenty more than that. Just what the bloody @#$% do you think you are on about?” He stepped through the screen door and between him and I we seemed to take up so much room that Richards felt the need to slip back inside.
“Don’t be a hard head Thor. I can’t stay. I never meant to stay. All this did was push the time frame up.”
“You’ll just leave Evans, just like that?”
“No, not just like that. I wouldn’t leave, at least not like this, if there wasn’t good reason to. You said you’ve dealt with the greenies before. Then you should know just what they’re capable of all in the name of their beliefs. They want to initiate the Great Cleansing, kill off all the humans so that the earth can … I don’t know … do its thing or whatever. I’ll be a great diversion to draw them off and away from here. As an added bonus I’ll take five of those yahoos off of your hands for you. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”
He grabbed me by the shoulders and shook, “Rochelle you are driving me insane. A win-win situation. For who?! Certainly not for you. You think you can really deal with five lunatics while you are running off into the wilderness in some beat up old wagon pulled by two of the oldest and dumbest nags still putting one hoof in front of the other?! You try that crap and I will turn you over my knee and I’ll …”
“Try it Thor and you watch what happens!” I was getting mad right back at him.
“The name is Rocky!! How many times do I have to tell you that you mule headed Neanderthal?!”
“Ro-chelle, I repeat if you so much as think of trying to pull a stunt like that you will not enjoy the consequences.”
I was so angry I was near tears. “I … will … not … put … these … people … in … danger!! I’ve already lost my parents and best friend and God alone knows how many others died just because they were determined to kill all of us GWBs that night in San Francisco. They nearly succeeded. Now look at Evans, they’ve hurt him too. He’s been looking after me like my own father … OK … maybe not exactly like Dad would have done it but his heart’s in the right place and he has taught me things I needed to know to survive. And you and the other men … I know you don’t think much of me but surely you at least know I’d never intentionally set you guys up to take a pounding … or worse. I can’t stand the idea of anyone else getting hurt because of me. I just can’t.”
“Rochelle … and you can stop trying to make me call you Rocky because I won’t do it unless I feel like it and right now I don’t. Rochelle, you are not the reason your parents were killed, or your friend Jonathon and his grandmother. You aren’t the reason Evans got hurt. Those people, they made the choice to act the way they did …”
“Even if I can eventually agree to believe that,” I said interrupting him. “… in the here and in the now, those people are going to use me as an excuse to attack this family. You said you knew how they were. Well I more that know Thor, I understand them. They have to come after me. I mess with their worldview and their view of themselves. I’m living proof that they murdered a bunch of babies and caused a bunch more to suffer their whole lives in one way or another. I’m proof that their actions aren’t kind, that they aren’t gentle little farm critters like Bambi and Thumper all cartoonish in their peace, love, and happiness. I’m proof that they are the cancer on this earth and not the other way around. And there’s not much proof left … just me. I’m alone … I’m all alone. And every time I turn around, every time I find something that takes that aloneness away they hurt it and kill it.”
I was too upset, I ran off the porch and ran through the group that had gathered to hear Thor and me argue, something we seemed to do a lot of whether I was in boy disguise or not. I didn’t know where I was going, I just needed to escape from the closed up feeling that was suffocating me. Idiot for punishment that I was my escape route went right passed the prisoners where they were tied.
It was that woman again that said, “I know who are you are now freak. How did you escape getting gassed with the rest of the mutants?”
I knew if I stopped I would have probably hurt her and hurt her badly. I don’t think … no, I know that she didn’t realize that I was a lot more dangerous than she really believed I was … especially in the frame of mind I was in.
“That’s right freak … run … run while you can. We’ll get you, we’ll never stop until we get you and wipe the last of you unnatural creatures off the face of mother earth.” The others picked up on what she was saying and added their voices to hers. I ran to the barn but I couldn’t get far enough away from their voices. I was afraid I would never get far enough away from their voices to escape them.
I ran to the back of the barn, not really paying attention to anything but trying to find some place, any place to stop the hurt I was feeling. I was grabbed from behind and I started fighting.
“Stop it Rochelle, you’re going to bust that arm open again and then Richards will have my head.”
“Thor! Can’t you just leave me in peace?!”
“No. No I can’t. God help me but I can’t.”
And then he did something that I’d never expected in a million years.