YOUNG ENOUGH TO BE AFRAID
By Charlotte Freccia
Zooey came up with the sun, her head in Franny’s lap, her tongue between her teeth, and the taste of blood in her mouth. She blinked, and shook the sleep from her eyes, and moved her tongue around in a circle, and then she sat up. Franny was sleeping, still, his head against the dirty glass of the car window, his baseball cap slightly askew. A rush of affection moved through her, followed by a wave of exasperation. She wondered when she’d stop forgetting that she wasn’t supposed to be in love with him anymore.
She looked through the window at the narrow, ramshackle duplex across the street. In the night, the wind had moved the empty recycling bins and some dead leaves and loose litter around the yard, but within the house, there were still no signs of life. She looked away. Her stomach was churning with dread. She could feel the threads of a headache beginning to unspool across her forehead––the kind of headache only induced by a night slept in a shitty Sedan––and still there was a ragged soreness in her mouth. She crawled into the front seat and angled the rearview to get a good look at the inside of her mouth. Her back teeth were brown with blood, and the inside of her cheek was tattered, its slick, shiny surface flaking, loose flaps of skin rough-edged and raw.
“Ugh,” she muttered, under her breath. She reached under the seat for the half-full plastic bottle of water. It stung with cold when she sipped it, and she winced as she moved it around her mouth, trying to rinse away the taste of blood.
In the backseat, Franny was stirring. “Hey,” he said, in his small, frankly adorable waking-up voice. She looked back at him, slumped down in the seat,his hands in the front pocket of his sweatshirt, widening his eyes until they adjusted to the light.
“Hey,” she said. “How’d you sleep?”
Franny laughed a dismissive laugh. “Great,” he said. “I slept great, freezing, sitting up in the backseat of a car parked in front of a fucking drug dealer’s house. How’d you sleep?”
Zoe didn’t laugh. “Terribly,” she said. “I practically demolished the inside of my mouth. Woke up tasting like blood.”
“Yeah, I could hear you chewing away as you slept. I thought that that stopped, Zo.”
“It did,” she said. “But sometimes it comes back.”
She tumbled clumsily over the glovebox and into the backseat, sliding her legs over Franny’s and resting her head on his shoulder. He didn’t encourage or initiate them, but Franny still occasionally allowed these little moments of intimacy.
“Sometimes it comes back when I’m feeling really anxious, or scared.”
“You’re scared,” he repeated, slightly dubious. “You’re scared? The whole come-here-and-demand-our-stolen-money-back thing was your idea, and now you’re scared?”
“Yes,” she said. “I’m scared. I know it was my idea. But I’m scared.”
“Well, don’t be,” he said. “It’s going to be fine. We’re going to get it back, and we’re going to be fine.” He didn’t sound like he believed it. Zooey certainly didn’t believe it.
“Okay,” she said. “But, Fran. We’ve waited all night. And they’re still not here. What are we going to do when they actually get back? Like, what are we going to say?”
“I don’t know,” he said, his voice too impatient to actually sound comforting. “We’ll do something, say something. It’ll be fine. We’re Franny and Zooey, right? We’re fine. We’re gonna be fine.”
They’d come up with the name the first semester of their freshman year, sitting around Franny’s older brother Charlie’s apartment on the edge of campus after their Adolescence in Literature seminar, passing a shoddily-rolled joint back and forth. It didn’t take them long to make the reference––it couldn’t have, really. On paper, he was Francis John Henry Fitzpatrick, and she was Zoelane Petrina Sakellarios, but together, they were Franny and Zooey.
“My grandma calls me Franny,” he’d said. “In that way, it’s, like, already my name. And you just have to chop your name in half and add, like, two and a half more vowels, and you’re Zooey. We’re Franny and Zooey!”
Before too long, the name was institutionalized, something their other, less important friends could use to refer to them as a collective unit, which was what they’d started to become. They hadn’t even started hooking up yet, but it had only been a matter of time. She remembered being so captivated by Franny that it felt like everything he said was either the profoundest or the funniest thing that had ever been thought. She remembered the way he waited around for her after class, and the way he narrowed his eyes and nodded philosophically when she said something smart, and how she knew he felt the same. By November, they were inseparable.
In the spring, they started dealing. It was his idea––a pair of brothers he knew from growing up lived twenty minutes away in Holyoke and could keep them in good supply. Their names were Benji and Alex, but Zooey had suggested they call them Buddy and Seymour, in keeping with their Salinger theme.
“Whatever,” Franny had said. “Call them what you want, I guess.” But before too long, he’d started calling them Buddy and Seymour instead of Benji and Alex too.
That was how it went with them. Where she led, he followed. That was why, Zooey had a sneaking suspicion, their business partnership lasted longer than their romantic one, why Franny had dumped her hastily and messily right before the end of last semester. They’d kept their distance that summer, but when they’d returned to their small campus in the fall, they rejoined the same small circle of the same small people they considered their closest friends, and he asked her if she wanted to continue dealing. Sure, she said. Sure. In her mind, it was a way to stay close to him. After all, when they dealt, they were still an institution; still Franny and Zooey, still hardly themselves without the other by their side.
“Franny and Zooey,” people would say, when they made deals. “Like the book?”
“Like the book,” they’d say.
“Funny. But you know in the book Franny was the girl, and Zooey was the boy.”
“Yes, we know,” Zooey would say. “But I don’t suppose we give a shit. Do we give a shit, Franny?”
“We don’t, Zooey,” he would respond. “Gender is a social construct, you fuck.”
That was how it went. It became almost routine. For awhile, Zooey had almost been disappointed by the distinct lack of danger she’d encountered since they’d partnered up.
“We’re dealing weed on a liberal-arts campus, Zo, Jesus. It’s not like we’re pushing meth,” Franny reminded her once.
“I realize,” she said. “I guess when we got into all of this, I imagined that I’d be engaged in more high-speed chases or run-ins with cops.”
“We’re two white kids. This is Western Massachusetts, not the streets of Oakland.”
It only got worse when they broke up. Weed deals became all but boring when you didn’t even have anyone to make out with once they’d gone down. Zooey only stopped craving danger when they were robbed by Buddy and Seymour. It had happened two nights ago in what seemed like moments, although, Zooey knew, the brothers must have been planning it for months.
They’d planned on meeting Buddy in the parking lot of an Old Navy in Hadley. When they pulled in, he was standing in the light of a lamppost, smoking a cigarette. He gave them the indicative nod, put out his cigarette on the asphalt, and let himself into the backseat, the giant Ziploc of marijuana in his backpack smelling up the inside of the car.
“Hey, man” he said.
“Hey, man,” Franny repeated, holding up the roll of hundreds bound by a cracked rubber band. “Two thousand, for the eighteen.”
“Can I count it?” Buddy said.
“Sure,” Franny said, passing Buddy the roll and watching as he unwound the band. Then, as if it was all one movement, Buddy stuffed the cash down the front of his pants, heaved open the car door, grabbed his backpack containing their nearly eighteen ounces of mid-grade weed, and ran across the parking lot, towards the road. Before either of them could say anything, Franny took off after him, leaving Zooey alone in the car.
She started to panic. Call the cops, she thought. She couldn’t call the cops. What would she say? Get help, she thought. She couldn’t get help. Help from whom? She was in a desolate strip-mall parking lot. Follow them, she thought. She got out of the passenger seat and walked the perimeter of the car. I can’t do this, she thought. She got into the driver’s seat. I have to do this.
She drove for what felt like forever, the highbeams of the shitty Sedan illuminating every shitty Friendly’s diner and liquor store of the barren suburban streets. She listened to the same song on the Youth Lagoon CD in the disk drive––Franny was the only person Zooey knew who still bought CDs––because it was the only track she recognized, from a mixtape Franny had made her right before they got together. Roaming the campground out by the lake where we swam, We were hunting for snakes, but we couldn’t find them. She swerved in and out of parking lots in front of shopping centers and office buildings that looked particularly desolate. She bit the fingernails on one hand. She decided to change course, and drove all the way down the riverfront, into Chicopee, almost. Minutes tripped over themselves. If I don’t find him in thirty minutes, she thought, I’ll call the cops. I don’t care what I’ll have to say. I’ll tell them everything, if it’ll help me find Franny.
On her way back into Holyoke, she almost rear-ended the beat-up Ford Taurus with the fake-wood siding and chipping maroon paint because the driver had swerved so recklessly into her lane. Instinctively, she moved a hand to the horn, but stopped. Didn’t that car have a patchouli-scented pine tree and a miniature of Wallace from the Wallace and Gromit films on a string hanging from the dashboard? Didn’t it smell like Friendly’s french fries and weed? Hadn’t she sat in its scuffed backseat on a drug pickup? Wasn’t it Buddy and Seymour’s car?
She reduced her speed and followed the beat-up Ford Taurus with fake-wood siding and chipping maroon paint to a field of concrete deposits that stretched out along an abandoned railroad track. When it stopped, she stopped too, clattering to a sudden halt along the white rock. She parked at an inconspicuous distance and turned her brights on, shooting wavering pillars of white light into the darkness. She could see everything.
There they were. Buddy and Franny. Franny prone, Buddy standing over Franny. Buddy kicking Franny’s hands away from his face. There was so much blood. Buddy stepping on Franny’s forehead, grinding it into the rock’s sawtooth surface. So much blood, tinting the rock pink. Buddy bending over to punch Franny in the stomach. She couldn’t move. Buddy spitting in Franny’s face as he wracked against the rock. She couldn’t move, and couldn’t help him.
“Franny!” she screamed, inside the shitty Sedan.
“Benji!” Seymour screamed, outside the beat-up Ford Taurus with the fake-wood siding and chipping maroon paint.
Buddy kicked Franny in the side one more time and took off across the field. Zooey turned off her lights and ducked beneath the drive panel as he got closer. She stayed like that, with her breath held and her face pressed to the tops of her thighs, until she heard Buddy scream, “Drive, man!” and the beat-up Ford Taurus with fake-wood siding and chipping maroon paint hurtle away. Then, she got out of the car and walked across the rock. She called out when she was feet away from Franny, so she wouldn’t scare him.
“Franny,” she said, softly, in a voice she hoped was comforting. “Fran, it’s me.”
“Zooey,” he said. “Zo. Oh.” His voice was faint, like a flame about to be extinguished.
“Can you move, Fran? Try it. Try and move. Gently, at first.”
“I can move,” he said. “I can get up.”
She guided him back to the car and laid him out in the backseat, taking off her sweatshirt and sliding it under his head for support. She got behind the wheel again, hands shaking, and drove to an all-night, sodium-light convenience store with a peeling advertisement for Lowest Cigarette Prices in the State! on its dirty, caged glass door.
Bells tinkled perversely when she opened and then closed the door. She bought a bag of frozen peas without exchanging a word with the red-eyed, underarm-stained kid behind the counter. She ran across the sodium-light parking lot and opened the back door, looking at all of Franny’s length, scrunched up across the backseat. In the car light, the bruises on his face and jaw were soft purple and murky gray.
“Hey,” she said. He didn’t respond. She wrapped the frozen peas tightly in their plastic bag, and slid it gently onto Franny’s jaw. Then, she got into the front seat. “Almost home, Fran,” she said, even though it was a lie. “Almost home.” She drove. On the way out of Holyoke, the headlights lit up the “Birthplace of Volleyball” sign. Zooey laughed sardonically at the sign, the way she always did. Franny groaned in the backseat.
When they got back to campus, Zooey parked outside her building and led Franny slowly up the stairs to her dark room. She laid him down in her bed and unrolled her yoga mat onto the floor next to him so that she could be close to him in case he remembered fear in the night.
In the morning, he told her everything, sitting up in bed, with rivulets of dried blood coursing down the tendons in his neck. He told her that he’d chased Buddy through those same streets she’d desperately driven, and that he’d been led to that field, and that Buddy basically jumped him, spilling him onto the rock, and that the beating started essentially immediately and only stopped when the beat-up Ford Taurus with fake-wood siding and chipping maroon paint appeared, and that he had heard Seymour yell Buddy’s name, and that then Buddy took off and jumped into the car which disappeared into the night, taking their two thousand dollars and their drug supply with it and that there he had laid until Zooey came. When he was finished telling, and she was finished listening, she asked him how he felt.
“Sore,” he said. “Sure. And pissed off. But fine, I think. Fine.”
“Okay,” Zooey said, measuring her words. “So what do you want to, like, do about this?”
“What do I want to do about it? Nothing,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything we can do. Maybe I’ll go to their house later and slash their tires.”
“Franny,” Zooey said. “I know you’re hurt. I know you’re scared. But––are you sure you want to just let it go? That was, like, a lot of money. A lot.”
Franny exhaled, then slid off the bed and went over to the sink, looking intently in the mirror, examining his face from every angle. He turned the faucet, and bowed his head into the noisy stream of cold water, rubbing at his neck to wash away the dried blood. Then, he took her towel from the bar next to the sink and buried his face in it. When he was done, he walked back over to the bed and stood in front of her. Beads of water still pooled in the hollow of his throat, and she had to suppress her desire to wipe them away with the tips of her fingers.
“Okay,” he said. “I am willing to try to get our money back. I am willing to go to Buddy and Seymour’s house tonight and negotiate a return. Maybe if I talk at them long enough, they’ll get confused enough to just hand the cash over. But the second it turns violent, we’re leaving.”
“So you’ll go?”
“Don’t say I never gave you anything.”
That night, when Franny pulled up outside her building in the shitty Sedan, Zooey went out to meet him in jeans and a sweatshirt, carrying nothing but her wallet and phone and a plastic bottle of water. Franny slung one arm over the wheel and looked sidelong at her.
“What?” she said.
“Ready to go?” Franny asked. He sounded like he was waiting for her to say no.
“Guess so,” she said. They crept out of town in silence. Franny played the Youth Lagoon CD from the night before, and hummed along. When I was seventeen, my mother said to me. Don’t stop imagining, the day that you do’s the day that you die.
When they got to the house, they parked on the other side of the street. The Ford Taurus with the fake wood siding and chipped maroon paint was gone from the driveway, and all the lights were off in the house. They waited. They waited so long they fell asleep in the car. Now, more than twelve hours later, they were still waiting. It was making Zooey anxious.
“Zo, I swear,” Franny said. “We’re going to be safe. Nothing bad is going to happen.”
“But how can you be sure?”
“Okay,” he said. “Don’t freak out. But look what I brought.” From his backpack, he produced a kitchen knife, which glinted dully in the mid-morning light. He held it out to her, like an offering, and she took it in her hands, turning it over.
“I thought that the whole point of this stakeout was to avoid violence,” she said, watching the distorted movement of her mouth in the silvery surface of the knife. Franny only shrugged.
“This…this scares me, Fran. This is a kitchen knife. The most damage you’re gonna do with this is you’re gonna stab Buddy or Seymour in the hand, whatever, and they’re gonna be hurt and pissed off but not, like, immobilized, and then it’s gonna be their next move, and the next thing you know there’s a horse head in my bed or a pizza on your roof.”
His eyes glinted. “You said you were scared. Did it occur to you that I’m scared, too?”
“Of course,” she said. “But, like, how is a kitchen knife going to protect us from Buddy and Seymour? They’re stringy, but they’re, like, Holyoke white-guy tough.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time I stabbed someone with a kitchen knife, would it?”
Zooey remembered a warm afternoon in the spring of their freshman year, when they’d skipped their afternoon classes and gone to the place in the meager woods behind the freshman dorms where there was an incredible view of the campus and the town receding into the mountains beyond. They’d rested on a long, square rock, and Franny had produced the bottles of Rolling Rock that he’d lifted from his brother’s fridge from his ratty backpack, and Zooey had sipped at hers while, unprompted, he’d told her almost everything he could remember about his early childhood. He’d told her about his mother, Sarah, and his two chunky older brothers, Charlie and Johnny, and about his little twin sisters, Megan and Margaret, and the rickety six-room house they all shared on Southern Artery in Quincy. Then, he’d told her about his father, Seamus, a moving-truck driver with a soft face who had the nasty weekend habit of getting drunk, coming home, putting on Dave Matthews Band, and beating the shit out of his wife and whichever kids were unlucky enough to be around.
“One night,” he’d said, “when I was eight, I was in the kitchen sorting out my Yu-Gi-Oh cards, and my parents were fighting in the living room, and it was something that I had, I don’t know, naturalized, in a pretty fucked-up way, so I wasn’t paying attention, but it started to get louder than I’d ever heard it get before, and, I don’t know, I was eight, and I started to get really scared, so I took a kitchen knife from the block next to the cookie jar, which was, like, stupidly shaped like a fucking cat, or something, totally unrelated to cookies. Anyway, I went into the living room, and I saw my parents, and my mom was on the floor, and my dad was on top of her, like, kneeling over her, but he had his fist raised, and I came up behind him, and I drove the knife into his hand, right between his knuckles.”
“You stabbed your father in the hand,” Zooey had repeated, almost disbelieving.
“I stabbed my father in the hand,” Franny had said back, seriously. “He had to get stitches. Until the day he died, he had serious neuropathy in that hand, and could not feel pain on its surface, even when he burned his skin with his own cigarette. His hand was so badly mangled that it was no longer effective in beating the shit out of my mother and my brothers and sisters and me. He tried to use his left hand, but he wasn’t any good at throwing a punch with his left hand, so sooner or later he just…gave up. I was young enough to be afraid of everything––I was a really soft little kid, afraid of my brothers, afraid of the bigger kids at school, afraid of the dark, afraid of the high-dive at the public pool, afraid of our neighbor’s dogs. But somehow I wasn’t afraid of my father, or so young to not have known, somehow, that the only person I ever really had to protect myself from was him. But anyway. What about you? What was it like for you, growing up?” he’d said, his face and voice unserious again as he took a long pull of his beer.
Zooey had wanted to tell him about West Peabody, and her perfect older sister, Andrina, with her shiny hair and straight teeth, and her repressed and passive mother, Phoebe, and her anxious, absent father, Salazar, and his affair with Mrs. Anastas from the St. John’s School PTA, and her mother finding out about the affair because when they went to a dinner party at the Anastas’ house her father had known where to find the bathroom and the drinking glasses without having to ask and how after the divorce her mother refused to see her father, and so when Zooey went to spend Wednesday nights and alternating weekends at her father’s her grandmother had to come pick her up at her mother’s and take her there, and how her grandmother always smelled like garlic and played ABBA and sang along, loud, and how ever since Zooey was unable to watch Mamma Mia! without feeling both nauseated and tearful.
She hadn’t told him any of this, though. She’d just looked at him, in the dappled light. She’d looked at him, and catalogued all that she had come to love looking at when she looked at him––the overgrown lengths of sand-colored hair licking his chin, the freckles over his nose, the fingernail-shaped scar on his jaw that hadn’t seemed foreboding until now. She’d remembered when they’d first met, making fleeting eye contact over the big, intimidating seminar table in Adolescence in Literature. She remembered all those hazy, sun-baked, stoned September afternoons in his brother’s apartment, becoming friends, getting their names. She’d remembered when they’d first kissed over The Life Aquatic and the way she’d said, after, we’re going to be together now, and he’d smiled and kissed her again. She’d thought about the Franny she knew and loved now, and the Franny that was, who’d stabbed his own father with a kitchen knife, and she’d wondered how one could have possibly grown into the other.
The next morning, Zooey woke up with Franny’s hair was in her mouth and his legs tangled in her legs, and her feet were cold, because he’d stolen all her covers in his sleep, and she’d watched the early sunlight wash him in a pale, cautious light that made her reconcile the then-Franny and the now-Franny in a way that made her sure that this was what it was to love someone: to see and know all of them, and still want more.
She looked out at the empty house and not at him. “Okay,” she said. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I just…” she started, and then thought better of it. “Nothing.”
“No,” he said. “Tell me.”
She breathed. “I just wish that this all had happened while we were still together, and I guess…I guess I just still don’t understand why we aren’t.”
“Don’t do this, Zo, Franny said. Zooey just looked at him.
“You asked,” she said. “You asked me to tell you what I was thinking. Now I’m asking you. To explain.”
“Fine,” he said. “We broke up because two nights ago I was the one who jumped out of the car and chased this fucker to a fucking creepy-ass railroad track in the dark and got the shit kicked out of me, but you’re the one who’s scared, and I’m the one who has to comfort you.”
“We broke up last spring because of something that happened the other night?”
Franny looked at her. “No,” he said. “We broke up because the other night was just like every night, the whole time we were together: me, putting myself out there for you, and you sitting back and watching, and then acting like I still hadn’t done enough.”
“So you’re saying I’m self-involved, and demanding.”
“I guess I am.”
“You’re saying that you were putting in more than you were getting out.”
“I guess I am.”
“The relationship was so draining, so unrewarding, that you had to just get out.”
“Then why are we still doing this, Fran?”
“I said, why are we still doing this? Why are we still dealing?”
“I don’t know,” Franny said, finally, quietly. “The money.” He sounded pitifully unsure.
“Bullshit,” Zooey said. “It’s not about the money. It never was. It was about us. You know it was. Still is. But you know what? I think this is it, Fran.”
“You think what is it, Zo?”
She gestured around, to the inside of the car and the whole gray-skied, leaf-strewn, cash-poor, shitty world around them. “I think thisis the last of our adventures. The last of our deals. It was stupid to imagine that we could continue being partners without being….You know. Partners. That we could still be Franny and Zooey without being Franny and Zooey.”
The beat-up Ford Taurus with fake-wood siding and chipping maroon paint was making its way down the block. They didn’t notice it until it turned into the driveway, and Buddy and Seymour got out of the car and leaned against their back fender, lighting up cigarettes. Franny and Zooey looked out at the brothers, and then at each other, and nodded solemnly.
“Zoelane,” Franny said, and thumbed idly the darkening bruise on his chin.
“Francis,” Zooey responded, and moved her tongue gently over the battered inside of her tattered cheek.
They kept their eyes together until the last second. Then, they got out of the car.
About the Author:
Charlotte Freccia is a third-year student of English, Creative Writing, and Women’s and Gender Studies at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where she also enjoys an associateship with the Kenyon Review. She is a 2016 winner of the Philip Wolcott Timberlake Writing Award has recently published poetry in Zaum Magazine, short fiction in Potluck Magazine, and creative nonfiction in Newfound.