Donut: a horror story
a free short by Avan Judd Stallard
When Jarrod Scheppach moved to Flippin, it was meant to be a new start. Some place he could become somebody, anybody other than the loser with no Daddy and a Mom who liked sucking down wine coolers, and other things besides. And he almost was, until he encountered Keryn Bogut. Because in Flippin, everyone knows that when you see Keryn Bogut you don’t point and don’t laugh and definitely don’t tease her—everyone except Jarrod Scheppach.
This is a coming of age story, but not one with a rosy ending. It’s for readers who like it real, as real as the pain of being an outsider and finding oneself let in for a second, only to be shut right back out—and this time for good.
You can read the full story below.
Everyone in Flippin knew Keryn Bogut. She was so distinctive and unique that most knew Keryn just by her voice, low and droning like a man’s, and her smell, of stale bread, carpet and sweat, never disguised by perfume. For others who caught scent of something odd or heard a strangely monotone voice and still weren’t certain if it was that girl, the Bogut girl, there was never any doubt once they saw Keryn in the flesh.
Clammy and pocked by red dots, Keryn’s bulk roiled and buckled under the force of deep deposits of igneous fat that sent her gut spilling over her cooch like a sack of wheat slipping from a wheelbarrow. Her head, somehow too big even for Keryn’s distended body, seemed to be connected to her shoulders without means of a neck, and her eyes, small and close, seemed the eyes of a toddler. When she moved it was in an amble of lurches and reels at once languid and urgent, surely the walk of a person carrying an invisible chimp on her shoulders that—dammit—just wouldn’t sit still.
And those breasts! Enormous, lop-sided and awful, flopping about and descrying a sexuality a merciful God would have spared her. Many a Flippin local had watched Keryn walk down the sidewalk, merrily eating something from the Walmart bakery, and thought: Christ, she’s hideous.
But, then, being decent small-town types, their better selves had spoken: No, I shouldn’t judge. I mustn’t. Think something better, for Christ’s sake.
And so they forced a better thought:
Oh, she’s trying her best.
Oh, we need simple souls—God’s angels.
Oh, she may be ugly and dumb, but there’s plenty of ugly dumb men and ugly dumb men need ugly dumb women.
A better thought, yes, but rarely a good one.
Because everyone in Flippin, Arkansas, knew Keryn Bogut—sixteen and simple—they also knew that Keryn could be ignored or pitied or quietly ridiculed behind her back, but whatever you were thinking, good or bad, you didn’t say a word of it to her face. You didn’t point, didn’t stare, didn’t even nod. You kept on your way and she kept on her way and everything was just fine.
Jarod Scheppach had a name built for riffing. He’d thought of maybe a dozen nicknames that made perfect sense, most of which he would have worn with pride—like Rod or Jar-head or Shep or German.
Hey, it’s the German!
Hey, Shep, let’s go bust some bottles!
Damn, that sounded fine. His absolute favorite, though, was J-Rod, because J-Rod sounded big and strong and maybe a little mean, which is everything he wasn’t. He’d often wondered if there was such a thing as a J-Rod, perhaps some part on a car, most likely an important part that never broke.
Of course, no one ever called him J-Rod or Shep or German. They called him Slutboy, from ever since he could remember. The fact was, Jarod’s mom liked to drink, and when she drank and went to the bar she sometimes went home with men she didn’t know. She wasn’t fussy. Jarod once overheard a woman say that his mom had probably sucked more cocks than her boy had hot dinners. He knew for a fact it was true.
So they called him Slutboy, and they called him Shitmouth. When Jarod was just eight, Fil Rolestone thought it would be a fun prank to coat a dog turd in chocolate and sprinkles then give it to Jarod when he was trick-or-treating. They hadn’t really expected him to eat it, but Jarod—sweet and naïve, enjoying the attention—took a bite in front of everyone and said, “Mmm, it’s good.”
So they called him Slutboy and Shitmouth, and they called him Hobo Joe Junior. Jarod couldn’t understand why someone would start a rumor about seeing his mom take fifty bucks from the homeless guy behind Walmart (as if he had fifty bucks) just to let him touch her titties. Then they started saying the homeless guy was really Jarod’s daddy, which he wasn’t. Jarod knew exactly where his daddy was—in Ouachita River prison. He told them that, but it didn’t matter. Everyone called the homeless guy Hobo Joe, so they started calling Jarod Hobo Joe Junior, but that was too long. They shortened it to Hobo Joe, just like his alleged father, or sometimes to Joe Junior. It wasn’t as bad as Shitmouth.
So, now, as Jarod’s mom sat in her big easy-chair, forcing wine down her throat and crying as she repeated, over and over, that the closure of the Coal Hill Walmart where she had worked for the past six years was the worst thing that had ever happened to them, Jarod knew it wasn’t. In fact, it was the opposite. It was an opportunity to become exactly who he had always wanted to be.
For all her tears, Jarod’s mom hadn’t actually been fired. She’d been offered a transfer to the Walmart in Flippin. Flippin was three hours north and they would have to move. That was a godsend, even if his mom didn’t see it. It meant they could start anew where people knew nothing about them.
“Mom, this Flippin ain’t gonna be so bad,” Jarod kept saying, making himself giggle, because Flippin was like a curse word yet wasn’t. “It’ll be what we make it. We’re gonna flippin love Flippin, Mom. Flippin love Flippin!”
And even though she didn’t believe him, she did laugh, and that was always enough to stop the tears and blubbering so she could swill more drink in her big red mouth. What Jarod didn’t tell her was that he had a plan—a plan to finally become J-Rod.
He’d play it cool, real cool. A whole special act that nobody would know was an act because they didn’t know him, the real him, and never would. And then, well, if you kept acting and acting forever, who’s to say that wasn’t really you? Who’s to say that you hadn’t become that—someone, anyone other than Shitmouth, Slutboy, Hobo Joe? Anyone other than Jarod Scheppach of Coal Hill.
By the time Jarod arrived in Flippin, he’d been working on it for almost a month. He knew it was good and that he was good at it—playing James Dean like he was the real deal. And maybe he was, at least as much as the original James Dean, because even he had to be playing a version of himself. No one was really like that. No one could really be that cool.
The Flippin kids were wary at first. They hadn’t seen anything quite like it before. The complete lack of care about anything important, even things that were important to other kids. The wry smile that said even more than his casual insults. The glowering looks, despite his lack of a jawline or dimples or cheek bones. Sure the new kid was sort of weird, but not in a completely bad way.
Jarod realized early in his performance that he wasn’t ever going to be most popular, and maybe he’d never be considered truly cool the way a James Dean should be, but just a glint of recognition or acceptance was enough.
And, so, not on the first day, because that’d be needy, and not on the second or third or fourth day, because that wouldn’t be cool, but on the fifth day Jarod said, “Actually, they don’t call me Jarod, back where I’m from. It was J-Rod. But whatever.”
And damned if they didn’t swallow it. Fifteen and four foot eleven and he was suddenly J-Rod—The J-Rod. Not only that, his mom hadn’t sucked a single cock and she was making friends with the girls at Walmart bakery. Nice girls with families. She’d even stopped saying it was the worst thing ever, and he wondered if maybe one day she’d be happy. If maybe in this town where there was no litter on the streets she would finally find the man she was seeking—a decent one who had a job and wasn’t violent or drunk or trash—and he would be nice to her and look after her and Jarod would be free. Jarod would be free to be his own man and find his own way.
It was a delicious fantasy and maybe, just maybe, it was becoming true.
Then Jarod met Keryn Bogut.
There were lots of things Keryn liked to eat, but jelly donuts were right up there. Maybe not her absolute favorite—not like a big bowl of candied popcorn, or sweetened condensed milk straight from the can—but favorite enough that she’d happily have one every day of her life. She be even happier with two, and more so with three, which just so happened to be the exact right number for the walk home from Walmart bakery. Sort of like fate.
Keryn worked at her first donut. Jelly and sprinkles of sugar migrated to her lips and cheeks like refugees fleeing a sinking boat. She knew it was happening without looking, and so her tongue stabbed at the sides of her face, then dragged hard across her top lip, leaving the fine dark hairs of her moustache clean and slick against her skin.
It was a hot day. A light wind kissed Keryn’s body. She felt her forehead, pits and crotch suddenly cool. She pulled the belt at the back of her pants so she could get some relief down there, too, but the caress stilled and everything was hot again.
Keryn didn’t mind, not much. She always sweated when she ate, no matter if it was hot or cold, and the good thing about it being hot was the sweat dried quicker. Her opinion, which she’d thought through on many an occasion, was that getting dry was almost as good as being dry in the first place.
The boys were loafing in front of a non-descript brown building. There were no signs in the windows or placards out front, no paint, no paraphernalia—nothing at all that told of the building’s past. The fact it existed was the only testament that it had been a place where someone did something.
“What you say this street’s called?” said J-Rod.
“S 1st Street,” said Nathan. Nathan’s mom worked with J-Rod’s mom, and J-Rod and Nathan were in the same year at school, so there was no doubt in J-Rod’s mind—they were going to be best friends.
“That’s no name for a street. A street’s gotta be named after a person. A famous one. How many Mr S 1sts can there be in the world? And if there is, you telling me he did something worth a street being named his? Pfff.”
J-Rod slumped back against a pole. It lofted a cheap tin roof built to provide shade for customer cars. The concrete slab below held a precious cool, so J-Rod pressed his hands flat on the surface. He watched Nathan, Davis and Porta practice tricks on their skateboards, giving a nod of approval whenever he saw something worthy. J-Rod’s skateboard, borrowed from Nathan, sat next to him—a mere prop for his act.
He’d been out with them twice now, and not once had he tried a trick. “Can’t be bothered. Too hot,” he’d said—and with such casual disdain for the very prospect of exerting himself that he’d somehow sold the lie.
Of course, the truth was that J-Rod could balance as he rolled down the street, but he could barely tempt the board from its stubborn marriage to the ground. For a week now, every afternoon and evening, he’d been practicing at home in his tiny living room (because someone might see him if he did it outside), desperately trying to learn a trick. It didn’t even have to be good. A simple ollie was enough, so that when he deigned the temperature and mood just right, he’d casually rip one, and they’d say, Man, that was sick. And he’d just nod, or flick his hair back. Whatever, he’d probably say. Just a dumb trick. Do ’em all the time.
But if he didn’t get his shit together soon, they’d start to get suspicious. Boys were built suspicious. He needed something to tide them over, some small act that reinforced the cachet he’d built. Maybe a rock through a window, J-Rod thought, as he watched the others tripping and laughing and calling each other useless idiots.
Nah, too try-hard.
Maybe when we leave I skate in front of a car and it honks and I just look back—like, whatever, I don’t even care.
But what if there is no car? Or what if the car comes and I fall off, or the car keeps going and hits me? Then I’d really be like James Dean. Death by car. That’d suck. Especially now it’s finally good…
I bet Jim didn’t want to die, either. I bet it really was an accident. You can’t stop accidents. That’s why they’re accidents. But it wouldn’t even be an accident if I know the car might run me down and I do it anyway.
I dunno, I dunno…
J-Rod was interrupted by Davis. He’d missed a kickflip and was now sprawled on the ground, writhing and squealing in a perverse blend of pain and mirth. J-Rod cast a wry smile his way, adding a single nod of approval.
Maybe a car hitting me wouldn’t be so bad. If I had a broken arm then I’d have a real excuse, thought J-Rod.
“Hey, check it out,” said Porta in a loud whisper, “it’s Dumbo Donut.”
They all turned and looked at the figure on the other side of the street.
“You mean Nathan’s girlfriend,” said Davis, getting up.
“Fuck off,” said Nathan. “She’s your girlfriend. She told me she wants your babies.”
“So you admit talking to her?” said Davis. “Cause she’s your girlfriend?”
Nathan punched Davis in the arm, hard enough to shut him up, but not too hard to start something.
“Man, she’s gross,” said J-Rod, getting to his feet, sensing an opportunity. “Look at her eat that thing. She’s, like, a mongoloid.”
“A what?” said Porta.
“A mongoloid. You know, a retard. We had a mongoloid back at Coal Hill. She shat herself and then went down the slide in the playground. It was the longest skid marks ever.”
“Oh, shit, I think I wanna vomit,” said Nathan.
“Yeah, that’s fucked up,” said Porta.
“Don’t shoot the messenger. Oh, shiiit,” said J-Rod, pointing, “look, she’s got sweat marks all up her butt. That’s so wrong!”
“Hey, don’t fuck’n point at her,” said Davis.
J-Rod ignored him. Porta slapped J-Rod’s arm down.
“What?” said J-Rod with a little more annoyance than he would have liked. Porta was big and his blow hurt, but J-Rod was meant to be cool and that sort of thing was nothing to him.
“You don’t point at Dumbo Donut. Or say nothin’. Don’t you know shit?” said Nathan.
“Pfff. What, are you all scared of a little mongoloid? No, make that a big mongoloid. Back in Coal Hill—”
“She ain’t one a them mono-loids! She’s a psycho. She’ll fuck you up,” said Nathan.
“Yeah, she’ll especially fuck you up,” said Davis, laughing.
“What’s she gonna do, sit on me?” said J-Rod.
“Yep,” said Davis.
“You guys need to chill,” said J-Rod.
“Well, if you’re so tough, I dare you. Go say somethin’,” said Davis.
“Anything. I know, just go up to her and say, ‘Hi, Dumbo Donut.’ I fucking dare you.”
“No, don’t,” said Nathan. “She’ll eat you. Or kill you. Kill you and eat you. She’s crazy.”
“That slug? Actually, yeah, she probably would eat me if she caught me,” said J-Rod, hoping a joke would defuse the situation. He didn’t want to go over and say something. He could be cool, slinging insults from afar, without ever actually hurting someone’s feelings. “Fuck it, man, it’s too hot.”
“What, are you chicken?” said Davis.
Porta laughed and made a brck-brck sound and flapped imaginary wings—huge, imaginary wings.
There was a delay, a moment of searching thought, then it flashed into J-Rod’s mind like divine providence—the line, the one straight from only the greatest movie ever made, Rebel Without a Cause. Now he just needed to say his line, and he did without thinking: “Is that meaning me?”
“Huh? Yeah,” said Davis.
“Chicken? You shouldn’t call me that,” said J-Rod.
“Why? Cause you chicken?” said Davis, and still Porta flapped his condor arms and squawked.
J-Rod was already busy building a rationalization. It’s not like she hasn’t been teased before, he told himself. She must get teased every day. And calling her Dumbo Donut isn’t too bad. It’s nothing like what they called me. And she really is a bit… I dunno, maybe she’s not a real mongoloid, but she’ll have forgotten in, like, ten minutes, max. And then I won’t have to fall off my board and get hit by a car, and these guys will think I’m James Dean, and she hears it so much she probably doesn’t even care. Dumbo Donut. Dumbo Donut’s not so bad. Not really. Not at all.
He didn’t even say anything. It was cooler that way. He just strode off across the road.
“J-Rod. J-Rod you fucking idiot!” called Nathan. “She’ll smash you. J-Rod!”
But J-Rod wasn’t listening. He could already taste the infamy. He skipped forward with quick little steps.
He stopped when she stopped. It was close enough to show he wasn’t scared—not of some donut-eating mongoloid.
Keryn turned and J-Rod gasped. He took a step back without thinking.
Those eyes, beady eyes that should have been blank or confused or childlike, were full of lustful intent, and they were looking right at him.
A boy. A tiny little boy.
Keryn didn’t like little boys. She’d learned that they were nearly always mean and needed teaching lessons.
Keryn saw the boy’s mouth open. His thin pale lips moved and he mouthed two little words without a whisper of sound.
Two little words, two little words, let me out…
Keryn knew two little words. Two nasty little words spoken by nasty little boys who were mean even when they were too scared to say the things they thought. And this one was scared. He reeked of fear.
What’s there to fear less you done something wrong?
Done, doing, going to do—to Keryn, it all amounted to the same. A dob of jelly fell from her donut. She looked down and saw a red smear marking the shiny white of her good shoes.
Keryn looked up and started toward the boy. She could see that he wanted to stand his ground, that he wanted to show the other ones who were watching—watching like they always did—that he wasn’t afraid. But he was afraid, and he should be.
Without warning, Keryn lowered her head and pushed off, hard. Her center of gravity tipped forward like she was running up a hill, but there was no hill, just flat black bitumen between her and the boy, the mean little boy who ran.
She’d already closed half the distance by the time he got going. That shouldn’t have mattered because he was being chased by a mongoloid, a big, fat, lumbering mongoloid, and mongoloids were slow, only this one wasn’t. This one was angry and powerful and her sprint was more than his. He looked over his shoulder and she was too close. She would catch him if he didn’t do something.
Like a rabbit caught in the open, J-Rod jagged left and then right and then left as he heard her steps pounding and pounding the ground, and why couldn’t he put any space between her and him? He ran for the building, past the others, screaming, “Help me! Help me!” but they didn’t help. They stepped back and said nothing. Davis took out his phone.
J-Rod skidded in gravel and turned the corner round the empty building. Keryn was still behind him, still close. He sprinted then skidded and turned the next corner. He could tell she was slower than him on the corners and he had hope—he would keep turning and he would get away and it would all be ok because there’s no shame in running from psychos and he’d still have friends if he just kept running.
He turned the third corner and stomped over what was once a garden, flailing his legs to buck through tall weeds. He turned the fourth corner, back to where it began, and sprinted toward Nathan, Porta and Davis. He had time now, because she had dropped behind, time to laugh and glance toward Davis’s camera and yell “Woo!” and then Davis’s foot flicked out and it caught J-Rod’s ankle and he tripped forward, his arms flailing, the momentum of his torso travelling beyond the scrambling of his little legs.
J-Rod fell hard and rolled. He felt pain where the skin ripped from his palms, but he couldn’t afford to stop and lick his wounds. He scrambled up and his legs pumped.
He heard the pounding of her steps and heaving of her breath and then she hit with the full force of her body. J-Rod flew through the air and sprawled on the gravel and he didn’t get up.
Keryn straddled the boy, looking at his pathetic face, then she let her legs fold and body drop and she was sat—sat on the boy with his mean little words, pinning him to the ground.
Keryn’s bosom heaved like the swell of open sea. Each breath rasped, coarse and needy. She looked at her hand, balled into a fist, crimson oozing across her knuckles like blood on a fighter’s dukes.
All that jelly and donut—smooshed, ruined.
He did that.
She sat there, her weight pressing on the boy’s pelvis, and she watched him cry. He cried like they always did; cried his crocodile tears that weren’t sorry, that were just a cheap trick to get away and not learn a lesson.
“Shut up,” said Keryn, but he didn’t.
Keryn leaned over, her sweaty breasts resting on the boy’s chest.
“Shut up!” she said, and grabbed the boy’s face, cradling his jaw with her thumb and fingers, forcing his mouth wide open.
“Shut up and eat your donut!”
Keryn tried to jam her red and brown fist into his mouth. Only a few knuckles fit, so she opened her hand and started palming the goop down his throat.
“Eat your donut!” she yelled in a furious sing-song cadence. “Eat your donut!”
Sweet viscera was across the boy’s face and in his mouth and sliding down his throat. He cried and spluttered as Keryn’s tongue parted her lips and circled her mouth, unconsciously seeking the deliciousness gone to waste.
It didn’t last long. Keryn soon sat back, satisfied that the boy had learned a good lesson. She wiped her hand on his chest till it was clean. She stood up, turned, and walked away, but something made her stop. She wasn’t sure what, but Keryn always trusted her instincts. She glanced back.
A frisson ran along her spine as if a breeze had blown, but it was hot and humid and the air was still.
That very afternoon, the clip was online. By Monday, everyone from school and fully half the town had seen it. They had seen the furious creature that was Keryn run down the pathetic figure that was Jarod, then nearly choke him with the remains of her donut. They had seen him lie helpless as a blind kitten, weeping and shaking. They had seen the shaky camera capture the sick smile on Keryn’s face as she turned and looked back. The camera panned and zoomed on Jarod’s prone form, and that was the moment when everyone who saw the clip gasped—gasped, then burst into laughter.
It couldn’t be, it made no sense, but it was right there on the screen. In the crotch of Jarod’s pants was the tell-tale tent of an erection.
Jarod plead his case to anyone who would listen, explaining that it wasn’t a boner, it was just his stupid baggy shorts. The fabric got all kinked up, is all. How could he get a boner over that mongoloid? It wasn’t even possible.
But nothing he said mattered, and The J-Rod was no more. The moniker that took its place was not so outwardly vile as those he had once borne, yet it was altogether worse for the fact it memorialized a humiliation that was real and raw and, this time, entirely of his own doing. They called him Donut.
It came as no surprise to Jarod that Nathan, Porta and Davis abandoned him, but that was only the beginning. Not a single nerd nor weirdo nor delinquent would be Jarod’s friend. Not the grade seven kid who spat at people and sometimes hit for no reason, not the obese kid covered in chronic acne, not even the kid who had old shoes and smelled like piss and went to school every day knowing that he would be teased and maybe beaten—not one of them saw any value in Jarod’s friendship.
His fellow bullied didn’t even acknowledge him, lest it was to sink their own barbs and relish the unexpected pleasure of finally being above somebody. And how could he blame them, when it was so easy and seemingly innocuous? All it took was the utterance of a single dumb word: Donut.
Keryn had one of the worst attendance records in the school. Her teachers didn’t mind. She didn’t seem to learn anything in class, and graduation was no longer possible. But then she started showing up again.
She went to class and sat there quietly, sometimes drawing and sometimes staring out the window. She was no trouble, because both teachers and students had learned their lessons long ago—they knew to let her be. At recess and lunch, Keryn sat on a bench away from the quadrangle where kids played dodge ball. She ate her snacks and played games on her phone, and occasionally glanced over at the table where the special education kids and their aide sat.
That also happened to be where Jarod had found refuge—the one place where he could avoid the taunts of his peers. Jarod almost never looked up from his books, and certainly never looked over at Keryn. He didn’t talk to anyone.
Of course, they still got to him. On the way to class and after school, or during any of a hundred moments when the teacher’s attention was momentarily elsewhere, boys and girls called him Donut and said the most horrible things they could imagine. Some of the boys pushed him around, though they didn’t beat on him like they might have. Not to the point where he cried. At least not at school.
Keryn watched Jarod grow sadder with each passing day, till she figured he was as miserable as a boy could be. Keryn was pleased—misery was the only medicine that could take the nasty out of nasty boys.
It had been a month since their first meeting. Keryn was in her usual spot, and Jarod his, when Keryn got up, dropped her rubbish in a bin, and put her phone in her pocket. She walked through the middle of a game of dodge ball that stopped without a murmur of complaint. Keryn crossed to the table where Jarod was sitting, maneuvered her body into the empty space next to him, and sat down. She turned to Jarod and smiled.
“Hello. I’m Keryn,” she said.
Jarod stared at the table and barely breathed. His eyes were closed as he pretended to read. For the next ten minutes, as they waited for the siren, Jarod said nothing.
The next day, Jarod sat on dirt under a scabby tree in the northern corner of the school grounds. Keryn soon found him and sat next to him. Each day, wherever he went, Keryn hunted him down. She never seemed annoyed and never commented on his disappearances. She just sat beside him and played her games and every few minutes would say, “I got a high score!” or, “I like comics,” or, proffering a box of pastries, “Do you want some?”
Then, one day, Keryn said, “Hello, Jarod,” and he said, “Hi.”
Keryn looked at him and smiled.
Despite the fear that still welled in his chest, Jarod smiled back. The isolation was a sickness that made him ravenous for acknowledgment. Any human acknowledgment. It was her or nothing, and he couldn’t bear nothing a moment longer.
Later that day, as happened every day, Jarod was on the way to class when a boy pushed him and said, “Hey, Donut, I saw you—” but there was a rush of movement and the boy was against a wall with four fingers and a thumb pressed into the flesh of his throat. He hung there like a mannequin, limp, mute, and blank.
“You don’t say that again. You don’t ever speak to Jarod again because he’s my friend. Promise?”
Keryn eased her grip just enough for the boy to nod and whisper, “Yes,” then she let him go. Enough people saw it for the word to quickly get around. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quick enough for Reece, a boy two years Jarod’s junior, who threw a pear at Jarod on the walk home.
Neither Jarod nor Reece had known Keryn was following till she was standing over Reece, slapping his face, yelling, “Say you’re sorry! Say you’re sorry!”
“I’m sorry,” spat the boy, between blows. “I’m sorry!”
Keryn stepped off.
“Now tell Jarod you’re sorry. And mean it.”
Bravely withholding a flood of tears, Reece got up and went to Jarod. He looked at the ground and said, “I’m sorry.” Jarod nodded and grunted, and the boy ran.
Life at school became easier after that. No one teased or bullied Jarod, not even in Keryn’s absence. Jarod knew, though. He saw the way they looked at him when they thought he wasn’t watching. He saw the whispers and giggles that were about him—him and Keryn—and knew now how she must have felt.
Like any animal dumped into a hellish reality, Jarod made the most of his situation. He began to converse with Keryn. He showed her the graphic novels he read, and tried to explain things about the world that he found interesting. He accepted her gifts of food. He said hello and goodbye and, even when he didn’t feel like it, made simple conversation.
In return, Keryn was gentle with him. Now that everyone left them alone, she showed none of the violence of which Jarod knew she was capable.
He came to accept her presence in his life. He even began to rewrite his understanding of how it had all started, how really it had probably been his fault. How he had pushed her to do what she did, and this, in a way, was his making amends.
No, she wasn’t so bad. She was probably a whole lot better than Nathan and Davis and Porta who were just cowards and sheep following the herd. He didn’t need them. He had his mom and he had Keryn now, too. Wasn’t that more than he had in Coal Hill?
It was a sunny day and not too humid. Jarod and Keryn were sitting under the tree they always sat under during lunch break, when Keryn turned and looked at Jarod and said: “Are you my boyfriend?”
Jarod didn’t know what to say. He didn’t even know what it meant—to be the boyfriend of someone like Keryn. Whatever it was, he felt dread.
But he felt something else, too. Something he couldn’t quite identify; something that made no sense. And so Jarod didn’t respond, not by word or gesture, which was answer enough for Keryn.
The following Saturday, Keryn led Jarod down the trail by Crooked Creek. They were standing there, looking at clear water flowing over rounded rocks, when Keryn reached across and took Jarod by the shoulders and pulled him toward her—not violently, but with intent—and kissed him.
It was unexpected, but Jarod didn’t pull away. As it went on, Keryn’s tongue parted his lips and searched. Jarod began to feel the kiss in his gut, then in his crotch—a tingling. The whole thing wasn’t nearly so bad as he thought it would be.
The next time it happened, he kissed back, probing with his own tongue. Despite all that she was or wasn’t, Keryn was a good kisser—or at least she seemed that way to a boy who’d never been kissed—and Jarod realized that he enjoyed it. He enjoyed the closeness, and the touch, and the heat shared between their mouths.
It became a regular thing, sometimes after school and most weekends. Always at Crooked Creek, where it was private, and soon Keryn was using her hands, touching Jarod’s shoulders and face and chest. One Sunday afternoon, she grabbed his hand and pushed his palm against her breast. Almost as a reflex, Jarod squeezed. Keryn smiled.
“Come on,” said Keryn, getting up, her eyes glancing down at the tent in Jarod’s shorts.
“Where we going?” said Jarod.
“My place. Mom and Uncle Max aren’t there.”
So they walked to Keryn’s home, a cement-board shack with a garden of dismembered engines. Keryn led Jarod by the hand into the house and to her bedroom. Dirty clothes covered the floor. She kicked them to the side.
Keryn pulled her shirt over her head, revealing enormous, sweaty breasts and dimpled rolls of fat. She unbuckled her pants and pushed them down with her hands, then stomped and stomped to get them from her feet. Keryn stood in just her underwear.
She smiled and looked at Jarod, whose gaze was flittering between Keryn and the floor. “I love you, my Donut,” said Keryn in her deep, droning voice.
Jarod winced. He glanced toward the doorway. For the briefest moment his body shook, as if he was trying to move numb limbs, but his feet remained where they were.
Keryn closed the space between them. Her tongue wetted her lips.
“I know you love me, too, Donut,” said Keryn. “This is what people do if they’re in love.”
Keryn’s beady black eyes stared down. She reached across with thumb and finger and gently lifted Jarod’s jaw higher and higher till he had no option but to look. When their eyes met, Jarod flinched and his chest made the tiniest of sounds, involuntary and meaningless.
Yes, he knew that look. That look filled with lust and hunger and intent. He had seen it the first day they met, back when he still didn’t know that he belonged to Keryn Bogut of Flippin, Arkansas.