Got a hankerin' to read part one? Go here:
Debbie and I continued our lunchtime smoke breaks under the carport. I was surprised to find that a junior high school that beat the crap out of you with a special paddle if you were caught chewing gum didn't seem to care if you left campus at noon. We weren't the only ones wandering away, and the exodus was no secret. Nobody seemed to care what we did as long as we didn't do it on school property. High school guys would pull up in front and wait for their younger girlfriends to run down the sidewalk and jump in the car. And speaking of cars. Debbie sometimes drove herself to school even though she was way too young to have a license. On those days we didn't smoke under the carport. Instead, we cruised the strip, cruised the high school, and cruised the other junior high across town while we smoked our Marlboros and drank whiskey from the fifth Debbie kept under the seat. I was thirteen.
Debbie must have finally thought it was time to take our friendship to the next level because she asked me to stay the night.
"We can ride horses on Saturday. "
Horses? Her aunt and uncle must have been rich, and they must have let her run wild because she wasn't their kid and they were just giving her a place to sleep until her mother came home from Paris. I was almost jealous.
After school Debbie drove me to her house. Down dusty New Mexico roads that never seemed to stop. Over flat land that stretched out forever. After twenty miles I finally spotted a mailbox that marked another dusty lane, this one with a house at the end.
I immediately understood that her aunt and uncle were poor. Really, really poor. The house was this sad bunch of squares sitting on top of dirt. There was the main square made of plywood and stuff that had probably come from other houses. Nothing fit, but the building did have windows and a roof and some paint here and there. The biggest square must have been the start of the home, and then as time went on other rooms were added, all with salvaged wood and mismatched windows. Inside it was clean, with nothing but a kitchen table and chairs, and off in one corner a couch and television. Debbie said hi to a woman standing at the stove frying chicken in a cast-iron skillet.
The woman turned and gave me a smile. She had very few teeth, her skin was like leather, and her hair was a wild tangle around her head. Debbie's grandmother? Great grandmother?
One of the additions to the house turned out to be Debbie's room, and we headed straight for it, shut the door, and settled on the bed with a scrapbook.
"There's my mom." She pointed to an elegant woman standing next to a fancy car. She was so pretty. Like a movie star. Did she pay the aunt and uncle to take care of Debbie? I'll bet she did.
"Is that your grandmother out there?" I whispered.
Debbie laughed. "It's my aunt. Isn't she something?"
"She looks so old."
"She's in her forties."
A door slammed and the aunt shouted that it was time to eat.
We sat down. Four of us now, because Debbie's uncle had arrived from the oil refinery. He didn't look nearly as old at the woman, and he had all his teeth.
Green Formica table. Aunt and uncle at opposite ends. Debbie and I across from each other. Fried chicken. Baked beans. Potato salad.
I got the feeling this wasn't their normal meal, that they'd prepared it because of company. I felt honored. We passed bowls of food in silence. Ate in silence. Struggling to come up with a topic of conversation, I finally looked across the Formica to my friend and asked, "When's your mom coming back from Paris?"
The aunt and uncle froze.
What had I done? What had I said? Maybe the mom wasn't coming back. Maybe she'd left Debbie here forever.
The uncle finally spoke. "Your mother?" he asked Debbie.
She said nothing.
"Your mother in Paris?"
Debbie still wasn't talking, so I tried to smooth things over. "Debbie told me about how her mother is living in Paris, and how she's staying here with you two for a while."
The aunt and uncle looked at each other, then burst out laughing. The guy tossed back his head and roared. The woman joined in with her toothlessness.
Debbie threw her chicken leg on her plate and ran to her room, slamming the door.
Which left the three of us. The aunt finally stopped laughing. When the uncle could finally talk, he said, "That's what she told you? That we're her aunt and uncle?" He burst out laughing again.
I finally got it. They were Debbie's parents. I felt so stupid. None of her story had made any sense. None of it.
Later Debbie unlocked the door and I joined her in the bedroom. She'd been crying. "I'll bet they told you they're my parents, didn't they?" she said. "Well, they aren't. They're a couple of liars."
This was the new story she'd concocted while I sat at the table. I actually liked her parents. Liked the way they hadn't gotten mad. "You are the liar," I said.
If I'd been older I might have been more sympathetic. I would have tried to figure out why she'd done what she'd done. Invented a mother because she was ashamed of her own. Invented a life because she was ashamed of the one she had.
Instead, I never talked to Debbie again. I never forgave her. Occasionally I'd spot her in the hall, but she always looked away. And I'd wonder if she was waiting for a new kid to come along so she could tell her about the mother who lived in Paris.
* * *Author note: I'm fuzzy on how we got from school to her house. We might have taken the school bus, or she might have driven. In the sixties in New Mexico it wasn't unusual for kids to drive even if they didn't have a license. Especially farm kids who came to town from as far as eighty miles away.