Aunt Mary was still snoring when Bernadette got the girls out of bed to get them breakfast and ready for school. She’d accepted her role now as the surrogate parent in this household.
She liked the girls. They had an easy way about them, and Aunt Mary—well, she was going to take some getting used to. There was a tension Bernadette felt around her, and she knew she wasn’t a blessing being dropped on them, but all in all, it wasn’t bad either as Aunt Mary could earn more money now.
Bernadette placed cereal and toast on the little kitchen table for the girls and made herself her usual toast and tea. She heard some movement from the bedroom, and Aunt Mary stood in the doorway.
“Did we wake you? Sorry, I was trying to keep the girls as quiet as possible,” Bernadette said.
Aunt Mary walked over and tussled Amber’s hair. “Hard to keep these two chatterboxes on low volume.” She kissed Abigail on the forehead and made herself some tea. “I wanted to see you before you went to school today. How was your first day, you make any friends?”
Bernadette gulped her tea and almost choked on it. “Well, not exactly, I did meet a few people.”
Aunt Mary stirred her tea and looked down at Bernadette. “You need to be careful whom you make friends with there. The school has a reputation for being tough. I’m hoping to move us to a nicer place once I get some money ahead then get a better job.”
Bernadette chewed on her toast and watched her aunt Mary collapse in the kitchen chair. She looked exhausted. “How was the tavern last night?”
“Pretty packed. I was run off my feet. The people in this neighborhood sure can drink, and they’re not bad with tips either. I made over a hundred bucks last night. Took me a whole week to make that working days.”
Bernadette nodded her head and drank her tea. She felt bad, an extra mouth to feed that her aunt didn’t need as a burden. “You know, I have some extra money I can put towards food.” She took a twenty from her pocket and pushed it towards Aunt Mary.
“What’re you going to do about school books and supplies?” Aunt Mary asked.
“Already bought them. I had some extra cash from a part time job I had up north,” Bernadette said. She didn’t want to mention what the job was—it was fleecing the town kids in poker games on a weekly basis.
Aunt Mary stared at the twenty. She let it sit there and sipped her tea. “You getting along well with the girls?”
Bernadette smiled. “We’re doing fine, aren’t we, girls?”
Abigail beamed back at Bernadette, “Yeah, mom, Bernadette took us out to . . .” She stopped when she saw Bernadette’s frown.
Aunt Mary looked from the girls to Bernadette; she could see there was a conspiracy and knew it involved ice cream or candy. “Just go easy on the sweets with these two. I haven’t got extra money for dentist bills.”
Bernadette nodded as she got up to get her things to go to school. She put on her denim jeans, a white t-shirt with a hooded sweat shirt and runners.
“You not wearing your kickin’ boots today?” Aunt Mary asked.
“Ah . . . no.” Bernadette said. “They make my feet sweat when I’m sitting in class all day.”
“Good, those boots would be just asking for trouble at your school.”
“Yeah, you’re right, thanks for pointing that out,” Bernadette said, slinging her backpack over her back.
Abigail and Amber wiped their mouths, gave their mom smeary peanut butter and jam kisses, and followed Bernadette out the door.
Bernadette dropped her cousins at their school, adjusted her backpack. With head down, she made determined strides to school. She felt more incognito, like she’d fit in with students this time. No more waving her black boots and battle gear, there was a sense of contentment in her like this time she would just fit in and get along with the other students.
The feeling lasted until she heard the words, “Hey, bitch.”
Her head snapped up to see Susie leaning against the fence. Her crew was there as well. They’d been waiting for Bernadette. It was obvious in their smiles; her arrival was their morning’s highlight.
Bernadette slowed in her tracks. Susie approached her with a swagger, showing her crew she was in control of this young plaything she’d found.
“We saw you on the soccer field last night, you was wearing our colours. Why you doin’ that when I gave you a beat down? Didn’t you get the message I gave you? You need another one?”
“No, I think I’m good. I didn’t have time to go home and change,” Bernadette said.
Susie looked back at her crew. She wondered if this explanation from Bernadette was sufficient. They shook their heads in mock disbelief at Bernadette’s lack of respect.
“Huh,” Susie snorted then spit on the ground. “You think you’d a had the time to change, when I said you were disrespecting us.”
Bernadette shook her head. “I told you I didn’t know you had a code, or dress code or whatever . . .” She motioned down to her feet. “See I changed my shoes, I changed my jeans, t-shirt, and my jacket. I’m no longer dressed like you, so why don’t we call it lesson learned and I get to class.”
The crew behind Susie let out a howl of laughter. One yelled, “Oh, Susie, she’s sassing you now. The little bitch giving you lip.”
“Is that it, you think you can talk your way out of another beating from disrespecting me?” Susie asked. She was balling her fist, marching towards Bernadette.
Bernadette dropped her backpack and turned sideways. She stared at Susie over her left shoulder, her right fist was balled, ready to land a knock-out punch to Susie’s chin.
Susie’s fist landed in Bernadette’s back. A sharp pain shot through her spine. She crumpled to the ground.
“Damn, she’s stupid, she didn’t see it coming neither,” Susie yelled to her crew. “It’s almost like beating up a baby, she’s so stupid.”
“Hey, cop’s coming,” a gang member yelled.
Bernadette heard Constable Myers overhead. “You know, Bernadette, you need to give up this fighting, you’re not good at it. This is the second shit-kicking I’ve seen you take. You may be wearing Susie out, but at this rate you won’t make it to Christmas.”
Bernadette rolled over and got up. “God, the girl can punch.”
“The crazy stance—why’d you do it?” Myers asked.
“I saw Jimmy Smits do it on NYPD Blue last night,” Bernadette said, trying to gain her normal breathing.
“Oh god, it’s a cop pose for holding a weapon. You don’t do it in a fight. When you stand to the side, you give up two of your weapons, which is your left hand and left foot. Nobody does it in combat,” Myers said.
“What are you talking about, this isn’t combat—it’s kids fighting,” Bernadette said.
“You know what, you’re just going to get your ass kicked until you learn some skills. It’s obvious you want to keep standing up to those kids, so take this card,” Myers said as she handed Bernadette a business card.
“I’m not going to call you every time I get a beating.”
“Nope, not my number, it’s the address of a dojo.”
“A dojo, a martial arts school. I train there three times a week. I’m going to get you three free lessons.”
“I don’t think I need it.”
“From where I stand, you do . . . but if you don’t want to come to the martial arts school, you need to take one piece of advice.”
“Take the long way around to school in the morning and afternoon. If you make a right before the school and run through the track field, you’ll miss Susie and her gang. They think this is their turf—avoid it.”
Bernadette picked up her backpack. “Thanks for the advice.” She could feel the pain in her back and tried her best not show how injured she was as she continued to school.
She eyed the long track field and wondered how much longer it would take her to get to school. Tomorrow she was going to try it.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish