01-21-2012, 01:58 PM
Alicia and her new friend, Mary Ann, or MA as she preferred to be called, flipped through the former's secret collection of Criss Angel photos while lying on the concrete floor of the old tool shed not too far from MA's house. It had been MA's favorite hideout where she could escape the unbearably strict discipline of family and church and be free to express herself in her drawings and watercolors. Her parents knew of her artistic talent and encouraged it, but only as a hobby; they restricted her subject matter to landscapes, fruit-and-flower still lifes, and religious themes. MA, of course, wanted to explore her creativity, to broaden her horizons by studying other works besides the Sistine Chapel and DaVinci's Last Supper.
MA had found this shed when she was seven years old, she told Alicia. The twelve-foot square cinderblock structure was the last remaining part of someone's farm, abandoned years ago when the area was given over to suburban development. For some reason, this part of the area was spared the wrecking ball and left to crumble for almost twenty years. MA discovered it barely a week after her family moved there from Ames due to her father's new job. Already tiring of the pressure to be a good little Catholic girl, MA had wandered off in search of new playmates and came across the shed. Thinking it was someone's house at the time, she went over to the splintering wood door and knocked. When there was no answer, she pulled opened the door (the eye of the hook-and-eye latch had pulled off, leaving the rusted padlock still in place) and went inside to investigate. It was empty, caked floor to ceiling in dust and cobwebs. MA had always wanted a playhouse, so she had decided right then and there to make this shed her own.
She had used her mother's broom and pink feather duster to tidy up the place, and had created makeshift shelves and furniture from milk crates and cardboard boxes. There, she could paint and draw, read the Harry Potter books condemned by her parents, and daydream. In time, however, she didn't play as much as seek refuge from the oppressive atmosphere she called home, especially when she discovered Criss Angel three years ago. She told no one of her secret hiding place until she met Alicia two months ago. After hearing Kyle's salacious gossip about his sister's impromptu trip to Las Vegas, heavily salted with disparaging remarks about her idol's sexual preference, MA decided to seek out Alicia's friendship. Unfortunatly, getting together with her proved difficult; they shared no classes together, nor even sat next to each other in the cafeteria, nor even during Assemblies. Only during the last day of school did MA happen to spot her in the schoolyard. The rest, as they say, was history.
Alicia, for her part, found a soulmate in MA. She, too, had parents who were living in the idealized past, though hers were still together. Her drawings and watercolors were surprisingly good for someone so young. Alicia wanted to offer to buy one of her pencil drawings of a semi-nude Criss, but thought twice about it--if her mother or, worse, her brother found it, it would be in ashes. At least here she could keep her treasured box here in the secret shed, away from prying eyes. It bothered Alicia that she and MA could not be free in expressing themselves the way they wanted, but on the other hand bucking the status quo was a thrill; slipping off and indulging in furtive pleasures brought a rush of excitement to the thirteen-year-old schoolgirls. It was as if they were living double lives, secretly loyal to the MindFreak while hiding behind a facade of conformity. Under the circumstances, it was the way they felt they had to live in order to retain their sanity and their sense of self.
When they weren't in the shed, they made trips to the library (with parental permission, of course), just to log onto the Loyal Community website, spending the alloted sixty minutes perusing the forums and posting their own messages to their fellow Loyals, pouring their hearts out about their lonliness and isolation in semi-rural Iowa. Neither Alicia's mother nor MA's parents objected to the girls' friendship; they were schoolmates from St. Benedict's, and therefore above suspicion. Indeed, Nancy Rose hoped that Mary Ann would provide a better role model that that horrid Criss Angel person in her wayward daughter's life. After all, Mary Ann was involved in the Altar Society and other wholesome activities in school.
Mercifully, no mention of Alicia's Las Vegas adventure was even hinted to MA's parents, or else they would question her reputation and subsequently forbid any furthur contact with the Roses. Alicia was worried that Kyle would somehow contact her friend's family, spill the beans, and terminate a beautiful friendship. Kyle wasn't adverse to using blackmail if it meant getting what he wanted, no matter how damaging the consequences. In the end, she had no choice but to cross that bridge when she came to it--although she wished she could somehow throw Kyle over the railing when she did.
Now, on that hot July afternoon, MA and Alicia lay on some carpet sample squares salvaged from a nearby dumpster and glued to a length of non-skid rubber shelf liner from the nearest dollar store. There was no padding underneath, but a few tiny throw pillows offered some comfort. They were reading Criss' book, MindFreak, languishing over every word their idol wrote and gazing over the photos in the middle.
"Did you take this with you on your trip to Vegas?" MA asked.
Alicia nodded. "I took the whole box with me, in fact."
"Didn't you get it autographed?"
"I wanted to," Alicia said glumly, "but then I got mixed up with that murder case, and the police sent me back home. All I got was a program from Loyalapalooza that he signed." She showed MA the crumpled program sheet with Criss' autograph scrawled on it.
MA looked at the program with a tinge of envy. "Well, hey, at least you got something!" she said. "I never even got a chance to go, let alone get him to sign anything!" She gave the program back to Alicia. "Are you gonna go back there? I mean, you know..."
"For the trial?"
"I have to go for that," Alicia replied. "I'm the only eyewitness. Problem is, Mom has to go with me, and I know she's not gonna let him even get near me." She sighed, turning over on her back. "What is it about parents that they're such buzzkills? Everything you like, they hate. And everything they want you to like, it sucks! Why can't they leave us alone and do our thing? We're not hurting anybody!"
"It's because they're afraid, Alicia," MA replied sagely.
"Yeah. They're afraid of us growing up and overthrowing their value system. They're afraid that we'll reject everything they think is good and proper and go tripping down the primrose path to perdition. That's why they send us to St. Benedict's--to drill the Church's dogma into us and shield us from the real world with it's radical secular humanistic ways of thinking. They want unquestioning obedience to the Pope and the Church, and God forbid any of us should deviate from the norm. In other words, they want to force us into the same mold they themselves were forced into when they were kids, and create us in their own image and likeness. They don't want us to become individuals with our own thoughts and ideas, they want us to be robots, doing what we've been programmed to do no matter how much the world has changed. You know in the Bible, it says 'the truth shall set you free'? Well, I saw the truth a long time ago, and I decided to set myself free, even if it's only holing up in this old shed. But someday, we'll be totally free, doing whatever we want when we want. We just can't let them get to us until then."
Alicia was taken aback at such a speech from her friend. "Whoa, that's deep!" she gasped.
She sat up and faced MA. "From now on," she said with the same determination she used when she boarded the bus to Las Vegas, "you and I are gonna be free to do what we want--no matter what! No matter how long it takes us, we're gonna follow our dreams, just like Criss Angel! No matter what happens, we're not gonna let them break us!" She extended her hand. "Agreed?"
MA shook Alicia's hand in return. "Agreed!" she said confidently.
After their pact was sealed, they looked at each other bemusedly. "What do we do now?" MA asked.
Alicia thought about it. "Wanna go get some ice cream?" she suggested. "If I ask my mom, maybe she'll give us some money."
MA shrugged. "Sounds good," she said. "But I have to be back home by five in time for dinner."
They carefully packed away their treasured photos, drawings, and Alicia's book, then left the shed, securing the broken latch behind them, and headed for Alicia's house.