“You’re not really self-conscious about your teeth, are you?” Donna asks.

“No. I just made that up on the fly. I’m cool with my teeth.”


“Good, because they really do look white and straight.”


“Will I be driving you home, Amber?”

“Got to pick up Bobby Big Boy, because I can’t sleep without my pup,” I say.

“How about I drive you and Bobby Big Boy home after that?”

“No, thanks.”

“It’s pretty cold outside,” Donna says.

“Yeah, but I have to stop by Franks’ house.”

“Mr. Jonathan Franks!” Ricky says.

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“Oh?” Donna says, because she knows I’m totally lying. I’m pretty sure Donna knows I’m living out of Hello Yellow. She’s super smart. When I don’t say anything, Donna says, “Amber, I know how you feel about taking help from me, but I can help you and your mom if you need it. I know people who can—”

“We don’t need your help,” I say, and am surprised that I sounded like a cat saying what I did. I feel badly about this—especially after all Donna has done for me—but I can’t help adding, “Not everyone needs your help, you know.”

I am such a bitch.

But Mom is going to come through one of these days. I’ve got my money on mi madre, and mi madre on my mind, sucka!

“Pride is not pretty,” Donna says.

“I’m not a pretty girl,” I say, because I can’t help myself, and I dig Ani DiFranco.

“You’re gorgeous,” Donna says, “you shine, only you don’t know it yet.”

This is a weird thing for Donna to say, so I clam up and listen to Ricky counting aloud and wonder about what he could possibly be counting.


When we get to Donna’s house, I let B3 out of his room, mop up his welcome-home puddle, put his plaid coat on him, and then find Donna in her room changing.

“Donna,” I say.


“I’m sorry I was a bitch in the car.”

“You weren’t a bitch in the car.”

“You rocked the school board meeting pretty hard,” I say.

“No, you rocked the school board meeting pretty hard,” she says.

“I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“Yeah, you could have. You just don’t know it yet.”

“I’m going to leave now,” I say, because I don’t want Donna to patronize me, even if she is trying to be kind. I could never do what she does. I sleep on a school bus. I’m a freak. I couldn’t even take first place at the Marketing Club regionals.

“Okay,” Donna says. “See you tomorrow morning?”

“True,” I say, and then leave without saying goodbye to Ricky, because—all of a sudden—I’m feeling sorta down for some reason.

It’s cold outside. North Pole cold. And I don’t have a proper winter coat.

As I’m walking toward the school bus compound, I remember what I said about visiting Franks’ house, and since I don’t want JC to think I am a damn liar, I make a detour. Franks lives in the neighborhood, in a grasshopper green rancher with a big old addition on the back—bedrooms for all of his redheaded kids.

It’s kind of late for a school night, but B Thrice and I walk up his driveway and knock on his basement window. Franks is playing Halo 3 in his basement, probably against Ty of the Franks Freak Force Federation and people all over the world, which boys and men do through something called Xbox Live. He looks up at me, then points to his watch and shakes his head. But before I can knock again, I hear Franks’ mean redheaded wife say, “I’m calling the cops if you don’t get off our property! I know who you are, Amber Appleton. Go home and leave my husband alone! He’s not working now!”

“I’m totally in love with your man,” I say to Franks’ wife, just to get her riled up. “He’s going to leave you and marry me as soon as I’m of age!”

“I’ll kill you with my own bare hands!” she yells, stepping out of the kitchen and into the cold night. She’s wearing a depressing bathrobe and slippers, which makes her look really sad and homely.

“Just kidding, Red. Your husband is an honorable man, and he loves you to death and would never leave you or the kids. Not for a million bucks. That’s why I want to hug him so much. I don’t expect you to understand, but please know that I’m praying for you and your family every night.”

“What are you talking about?” Mrs. Franks says.

“You’re a lucky woman,” I tell her, and then BBB and me walk away.

B3 is a little lackluster at night. He’s a morning dog. So I usually talk to JC on my long walk home to Hello Yellow.

“JC,” I pray. “You see us at the school board meeting? Whatcha know about that, sucka?” I laugh because it’s sorta fun to call JC sucka when I’m praying. “Were you proud of me, Heavenly Father? Did your daughter do you proud?”

I look up into the sky and there are no stars. Just streetlights and blackness.

I don’t really feel like JC is listening tonight, so I stop praying and start to cry.

I cry a lot when I am alone, probably because I am a chick and all, but maybe because I’m not strong like Donna, and I think about stuff too much—like, for example, sometimes I get this idea that my dad has really been watching over me the past seventeen years sorta like a guardian angel or something, only he’s really alive and waiting for me to earn the right to have a dad, and once he sees me doing enough good, he’s going to run up behind me and surprise me with a big old fatherly hug, picking me up off the ground and spinning me around like in the damn movies. Sometimes, after I have done something pretty kick-ass, I turn around really quickly, because I sorta believe that he might be there ready to hug me. But he never is.

I don’t want to turn around tonight, because I’m seventeen, so I realize that the fantasy is silly and even delusional maybe, but as I’m walking home tonight, I think about how I protected Ricky from Lex Pinkston today, and how happy The KDFCs looked when we were performing “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and I know that Father Chee is definitely proud of me, and I got my boys to save Franks’ job, which is something that any good father would be proud of, and as I’m walking down the street, I start to feel like my father is really behind me—I even think I hear his footsteps.

I don’t want to turn around and be disappointed once again, but I also still believe in hope and the possibility of beautiful things happening in this world. I still believe that JC and God have a kick-ass plan for every one of us, so I say, “Dad?”

With so much hope in my heart, I spin around in the middle of the sidewalk and there is no one there—like always.

And so I cry—so hard that BBB gets scared and starts barking, so I pick him up and carry his butt back to Hello Yellow.

Mom’s asleep under the comforter, so I let her be.

I don’t do my homework.

I sit in the quiet darkness for a long time.

For some reason I start thinking about the time I asked my mom for a tent, which is all-time Amber-and-her-mom moment number four:

When I was maybe seven or so, I saw this sitcom on television where the mom and daughter spend the night in the backyard. The little girl gets a tent for her birthday and then she wants to sleep outside instead of her room, so the mom sets up the tent for her, and they have these great times pretending that they are explorers pioneering across America back when it was inhabited by Native Americans, back in the day. It looked like fun, so I begged my mom for a tent.

Mom didn’t get me a tent, but she made me one out of blankets and broom handles one summer night and we attempted to camp behind the apartment complex we were living in at the time, back when Mom was with a different boyfriend, Trevor, who was only around for a few months or so.

By flashlight, Mom and I read books I had checked out of the library, and then she told me silly ghost stories before we went to sleep.

I woke up in the middle of the night feeling some sorta slime on my face.

“Mom?” I whispered. “Mom?”

“What’s wrong?” she said.

“I think there’s something on my face.”

“Go back to sleep,” Mom said.

“I really really think there is something on my face. Can you check?”

Mom turned on the flashlight and started to scream.

I sat up and started to scream.

There were slugs all over the inside of the blanket tent, all over our sheets, and a few were even on us.

Both of us ran out of the tent, and we couldn’t stop screaming.

Eventually, the cops showed up with their guns drawn, because someone reported a disturbance.

We were so freaked that we couldn’t even talk.

Mom just pointed to the tent.

The cops actually aimed their guns at the tent and started to talk very mean to the slugs. “You’re surrounded. Come out with your hands up. We can resolve this peacefully.”

It was pretty funny to hear the cops talking to slugs like that, so I started to laugh.

The cops didn’t like that, and started questioning us, and soon they understood that they had drawn their guns on a tent full of slugs, so they had to laugh too.

After Mom had explained the situation, she offered to buy the cops a cup of coffee to make up for the misunderstanding, and when they agreed, we got to ride in the cop car. I asked the officers if they would put on the lights and sirens, and they said, “Sure.”

We rode super fast to the all-night doughnut shop, where Mom flirted with the cops and I got to eat doughnuts in the middle of the night, which was pretty killer.

When the cops dropped us off back at the apartment building, we went inside and, since Trevor had to work in the morning, Mom slept in my bed with me, which was really nice, especially since the bed felt so comfortable after trying to sleep outside on the grass for a night.

What I wouldn’t do to be in a bed tonight.

In the present moment, after taking BBB out for one last pee worrying the whole time that the local rapist murderer will get me, back on Hello Yellow—even though I really don’t feel like it—I force myself to pray for everyone on my list, asking God to help us all be who we need to be. And I pray really hard, even though I can’t feel God tonight, and I wonder if He is mad at me or something, which makes me feel as though maybe my day wasn’t so kick-ass after all.

I’m cold without the comforter, but BBB keeps me warm—his little body inhaling and exhaling against my chest—and I eventually fall asleep.

When I wake, I cannot remember my dreams—but Mom is outside smoking a Newport, and everything begins once again.


Freak Scene


After another frickin’ freezing night in Hello Yellow, my butt has finally thawed and is now all nice and toasty. I’m singing in the back of Donna’s Mercedes. Again, heated leather seats. So nice.

We’re listening to Dinosaur Jr.’s “Freak Scene,” which is my favorite D. Jr. song, pretty much because it is also Donna’s favorite, and I like watching her sing it like a teenager.

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