Filed under: Chapter 05 | Tags: Belk, Bon Jovi, Bryanna Summerson, Chrysler Eagle Medallion, Japan, Josh Bates, Kevin Wilder, Nancy Spungen, rich people, Some New Trend, Stryper, tattoos, telephone misconduct, Wavves
“I’M NOT YOUR DJ,” I tell Stephanie, in response to her third request to change the song.
“Why not?” she says, cracking her window to let in some air. “It’s healthy to know what other people wanna hear.”
“Healthy?” I say. “Healthy’s overrated. Mental illness is totally in, you know.”
My sister continues feeding me ammo: “Yeah right. Everyone knows depression died out with late-nineties grunge. Emo kids haven’t gotten the memo.”
Whether annoyed with me or not, Steph’s still dependent. “If you don’t like the band Wavves,” I add, “put your earspeakers on.” I tap my hands along with the music, the steering wheel my drum kit.
“But I’m here to keep you, ‘the driver’ alert.” She lowers the volume, and I notice the pitch-blackness of her fingernails. “Mom told me to be your second set of eyes.”
I vaguely remember Mom saying this, after informing me I’d be my now-employed little sis’s chauffer. Dinner didn’t end so well last night, as I knew this decision would alter my otherwise pleasant morning drives to Twin Pines Mall.
I call them “pleasant,” but let’s face it—it’s Florida.
My air conditioning system works splendidly, but only 30% of the time. I drive a beat-up Eagle Medallion, built by the Chrysler Corporation back in nineteen-eighty-who-cares. It’s plum-colored if you’re able to dig through eight centimeters of pollen. Also, over the past few months my car’s become a compact bird sanctuary of sorts—a magnet attracting every species of bird poop. I like to think I’m offering a great service to my community. A plum- and pollen-colored shelter. For the birds.
“I like to pretend Regions Bank is called Religions Bank,” Stephanie says, pointing to a green sign. “You know, since most churches are ripping you off, anyway.” She snickers. “It’s like, come worship with us. But first toss your money into this shiny plate.”
We punch the code and are granted access into the Sharp’s pearly subdivision, spiraling gates and multiple security guards. To my understanding, herds of students from our school live here. Jocks, mainly. The Creatine-induced, and wearers of Croakies—not to mention kids with drug-related hip-hop ringtones on their cell phones. Their parents’ turn to look as the Eagle Medallion putts past, it’s exhaust blowing smoke clouds in their faces. “This doesn’t smell like fresh sod!” they must be saying. “That’s not coming from a backyard BBQ!”
Next on the right are some three-story McMansions. Hurricane regulations should prevent neighborhoods from building tract houses this high, but then again, where are the state taxes coming from? Either way, with this kind of money you’d think people would show some respect for the landscape. What would Frank Lloyd Wright say?
I admire the many types of palm trees, some planted in big terra cotta pots, and almost crash into someone’s mailbox in the process. After the sixth left I pull into Will’s driveway honking.
The usual suspect runs toward us in surf trunks. Steph squints to make out what’s different about him today. “What the heck?” she says.
Will hops in the backseat. I understand what she means when I see the entirety of his left arm. From would-be bicep down to wrist, it’s covered in temporary tattoos. He’s also wearing a shrunken t-shirt he stole from me. It doesn’t really fit.
“Saved you some,” he says, tossing me a tattoo.
Stephanie grabs the Superman ‘S’ from my hand and says, “Sweet.”
“Totally,” he says. “Got ‘em yesterday when I broke into the novelty machines beside Belk.” He should be more careful. This type of behavior got him kicked out of the Webelos.
“Can you teach me how you did it?” Steph asks. “Maybe I’ll have time to run by before orientation. I could use some new plastic diamond rings.” She rolls up her sleeve and licks her shoulder. Will seems to enjoy this. He watches with curiosity as she presses the superhero insignia to her skin, peeling the backing off really slowly.
On our way out we pass a magazine-worthy Miami-style home, remodeled, standing high above the rest. In the driveway a slender woman wearing a skirt hops out of a parked car, a baby in one arm and a tennis racquet in the other.
“So why are we drivin’ you again?” Stephanie asks.
“The mall, I guess,” Will says.
“Why, not where,’” she says. It sounds like a diss.
“Honda’s in the shop,” he says, not really answering the question. “Should be out tomorrow, knock on wood.” He makes a fist and hits the window. Will’s an idiot.
I’m surprised he left out why his car’s in the shop. For Will’s seventeenth birthday, he asked for bigger tires and tinted windows. Oh, and a dual exhaust system installed. My guess is that it’ll still blow less smoke than mine.
Perhaps I’d be more positive if last night’s call had ended differently.
Usually, when I pace around my room for long enough, I can count on being hit with a few epiphanies. This is what happened yesterday, when a few came demanding serious consideration. I was finally reaping the ramifications of my pathetic desperation.
Everyone’s heard the expression ‘nice guys finish last.’ But what everyone hasn’t heard is that Josh Bates finishes sometime after the so-called nice guys. Like several laps after.
I collapsed on the floor and began wondering if there was a way to stop my heartbeat. Learning to do this successfully would mean I could bypass the stresses of work and living for a little while, to get my life back off the ground. Soon I came to my senses long enough to say a quick prayer, take a swig of Gatorade, and dial the number. I now had it memorized.
It was ringing. And to my dismay, she actually answered.
When you’re awfully good at thinking about relationships, but terrible at getting them started, therein lies the problem.
“Hello?” Bryanna’s voice said. I was picturing her cherry lips, less than a few centimeters from the receiver.
“Hey Bryanna… it’s me, Josh.”
“Josh Bates. You know… from Macy’s.” Nothing. “We texted each other on Friday?”
“Right,” she said politely, and giggled. “What’s up Josh Bates from Macy’s?”
“Ohh not much.” I sucked in my gut, and compared my physique to those of the men wearing spandex on my autographed Stryper poster. There weren’t any comparisons to be made. “Is that an elliptical machine you got running in the background?”
She laughed even more instead of answering this simple question then cut off the device, whatever it was. If she was in fact working out, I found it impressive she knew how to maintain her breath so effortlessly.
Me, on the other hand: “So how’re the shoes workin’?”
“Not bad,” she said. “Thanks again. Thinking I might wear ‘em out tomorrow.”
“Don’t ‘wear ‘em out’ yet,” I said, chuckling.
I stabbed my arm with the lead of my mechanical pencil, as punishment. I was already running out of steam. There was no way we could carry on like this forever. “So uh… you wanna hang out sometime?” This was repeating what I’d already said, not to mention jumping to the reason for calling way too quickly.
Silence. More Silence. And then…
Not a word. More of the same. “Is that a yes?” I asked.
“No, hold on,” she said. “My dad’s yelling at me.”
This was torture.
Bryanna’s dad, known to rich people as Mr. Summerson, is believed to sell luxury cars to the majority of Will’s neighbors. Popular theory tells us this, anyway. What would he say about the Eagle Medallion? I’d probably need to give it a bath.
I heard her hand rubbing against the phone. Her. Hand. Rubbing. My ear. Well, almost.
I returned to my spot on the carpet, tangling myself up in wires. I tried to make a noose from the phone chord, and started losing control of my body when the slack around my neck went tight, causing me to feel blue in the face. For a minute or two my heart might’ve actually stopped beating—it’s difficult to say. Alexander Graham Bell would never have advocated this type of misuse.
When Bryanna finished screaming at her father she notified me, “Sorry, time to go.”
“Go? Where we going?” I tried to stand up, and fell over again. My leg kicked over my drink bottle, spilling Gatorade all over the carpet.
“No, I need to get off the phone,” she said. “Like now.”
I took off my shirt, the only thing around to mop up the Citrus Cooler flood. “Oh, I see.” These words sounded pathetic in a way that demanded sympathy.
“But yeah, let’s hang out I guess. I mean, whatever.”
Yes! A yes! A whatever! “Great!” I said, then added, “How ‘bout the arcade?” not giving the notion much thought.
“Yeah okay,” she said. “Sounds good. See ya.”
My muted goodbye faded into the dead air.
Oh, Bryanna. Your hand pressing the button to hang up. Your hand scribbling the words ‘Arcade w/ Josh’ into your day planner. Your hand on my…
I looked down to find an unexpected boner.
It seemed Bryanna Summerson was capable of producing strange effects from the human physiology, without being there or even realizing it. She’s magical like that. In addition to my boner-without-warning, the mirror revealed at least two oncoming zits on my face. Without a doubt, this was more than simple stress.
Several minutes passed before I could face the family. With my boner finally gone I went downstairs, checking the living room and the kitchen. Silence. I looked out the window to see if they were hiding in the backyard. I checked the garage. The station wagon: gone. I really could’ve used some company right then, so I knocked on both bathroom doors, and surveyed the back porch. Any bodily presence would’ve worked. I climbed upstairs, peeked my head in Dad’s study, and then hollered into my parent’s bedroom. No answer. Everyone was gone, including Stephanie. I texted the word “HELP” to Will, who dialed for a recap.
Through confessing every detail of our conversation, I kept digging to see if my friend considered it as horrifically awkward and pointless as I’d interpreted. Of course, Will proved to be little help, as he just kept muttering non-vowel words like “hmmf” and “phhffrr.”
I flung a dart at Stephanie’s door, aiming at the Jonas Brothers photo on her dartboard. The dart barely missed the youngest Jonas and ricocheted off, striking the family portrait on the opposite wall. It cracked the glass, slashing from Dad’s paisley necktie to my infamous bowl cut. I touched the picture to survey the damage. A shard of glass sliced my fingertip.
“So what happened after—?”
“At that point I think she had to go blow-dry her hair.”
“You mean literally?” Will asked.
I groaned, and held on to my stomach. In doing this I realized I was spreading blood all over my new undershirt.
Will remained speechless. Was he deep in thought? This certainly wasn’t the case. A series of bleeps and bloops followed. I asked, “Are you playing Halo?”
“I mean, sorry for running this into the ground, but she’s perfect ya know? She’s got the serenity of Emmylou Harris… the lips of Debbie Harry, the hips of… of…”
“Nancy Sinatra?” he asked.
“What about the other Nancy?” he asked. “Like Sid Vicious’s girlfriend.”
“Not at all. Too dirty for Summerson.”
Before Will had been more encouraging, like last week when he offered lyrical advice from Bon Jovi’s “Keep the Faith.” Now he didn’t even have bad suggestions to give. Finally he said, “I gotta be honest right now. You need to stop this madness. You don’t really want B.S. to be your girlfriend. It’s not in your cards. Besides, you know where that’ll leave me.”
“No I don’t,” I said. “Where will that leave you?”
He stalled. “Playing video games alone, while you’re spending your Saturday nights with her. At the Arts Center. Watching RENT.”
This wasn’t what I wanted to hear, so I groaned some more, and started searching the house for a Band-Aid and a third shirt to change into.
He lowered the volume on his game and said, “Could be too, you’re being way too hard on yourself.”
Fields of tall green grass… People used to walk knee-deep in them to pick their lovers flowers. These days they’re lazier, getting bouquets from the florist. Besides, what if the guy tending the field carried a shotgun?
My point is, I wonder what kind of flowers I’d pick for you if given the chance? Do you prefer roses? Lilacs? Russell hybrid lupine perennials? I’ve never bought flowers for a girl, unless you count Mother’s Day. And even Dad picked up the tab on those.
Truth be told I’m not the smartest guy when it comes to this love or whatever-you-call-it kind of stuff. I’d probably just ask the florist for their honest opinion, and request to keep the arrangement under thirty bucks.
The springs under Stephanie’s seat squeak as she tilts it back. She squashes Will’s legs in the process, and props her own skinny ones up on the dash.
“You’re awfully dressed up today,” he says. “First day on the job?” I catch him trying to sneak a peek at her legs, and ask her to put them down. I’d hate for Steph to know that at sixteen, some guys are beginning to notice her. It’s my job to keep her insecurities intact, before she learns how to use looks to her advantage.
“Yeah, and it’s all thanks to my BFF,” she says. “June collected like a million applications for me, and Kirkland’s was the first to recognize my true potential.” Steph removes a book from her purse and flips to a dog-eared page, almost like she’s trying to keep distracted from something. “Jobs are an inevitable part of our temporal existence,” she says. “Life’s more expensive than it used to be. And frankly, I just don’t feel like paying.”
Again I’m wondering what any of this means, but instead ask, “Whatcha reading?” a little nicer than before.
She shows me the cover of The Penultimate Peril, the second-to-last book in the Lemony Snicket series. “I’m about to finish reading ’em a second time,” she informs. “It’s amazing how much you get done when you cut out watching television.” She looks out her window at several men re-shingling a Denny’s roof. “Funny, but few Americans realize this.”
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people watching TV,” Will notes. “Especially people born without legs.”
“You’re right,” Stephanie says, engrossed in the topic.
“Or maybe the legless have an even greater responsibility to set an example,” Will says. “You know, so legless children have someone to look up to.” He adds excitedly, “Wanna hear about my project?”
I turn the volume down and say, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you abou—”
“I’m documenting my life in photographs.” He takes some wrinkled snapshots out of his shorts. Why surf trunks now have pockets is beyond me. For collecting shells? He begins thumbing through the photos. “My dad showed me how to print ‘em out using his Japanese photo printer.”
“Japanese?” I say. “Gimme a break. It’s Fuji.”
Mr. Sharp, who is both Will’s dad and the owner of many technological devices, looks like a bigger Will with gray hair. I know surprisingly little about him apart from his appreciation of technology, and how much he wishes he could be funny. Most of his jokes are quotes from scratched Richard Pryor LPs. It helps to have a role model.
Will passes one to the front seat. “See? I snapped this one the other day. It’s the back of your head, and you didn’t even see me take it. Isn’t that funny, Steph?”
“Funny? More like terrifying. Gimme that.” Steph stuffs the photo in her book. “You’re such a creepshit.”
“Speaking of,” Will adds, “I hate being nosy, but when I saw you and your friend in that store yesterday… um, did June say something about having a boyfriend?”
I jerk the wheel, and swerve to avoid hitting an SUV.
“Whoa, watch it driver,” Steph says. She doesn’t answer the question, but I’d like to know. For curiosity’s sake.
“So does she? Have a boyfriend?” Will says. I’m relieved to find him taking the questioning upon himself.
“June,” we both respond.
“Oh no. She doesn’t. Where’d you weirdos get that idea?”
“She said so!” Will says defensively. “She told you ‘That’s everything I need except a circle bridge and a boyfriend.’ And also some crap about an emperor.”
Steph rolls her eyes and says, “Koi pond.”
“Huh?” I ask.
“She said ‘a circle bridge and a koi pond.’ We were talking about Japan. Claire’s sells all this school-girl anime stuff.” She puts her hands over her face. “Honestly, you should learn to be a better eavesdropper.”
As we pass the Twin Pines High stadium, I’m reminded of one factor making these long drives not so bad: there’s no school for another 2.3 months.
“What’s this?” Steph says, at the next shot Will hands her.
“Oh that’s from one of my Nature Photography sessions. That chameleon almost bit me.”
“Looks like a patch of grass,” Steph says.
“Tell her what you’re gonna do with ‘em,” I say, as we pull into a Chevron.
Will looks at me confused. “Do with what?”
I give him an even more confused look. “The pictures, dummy.”
“Oh! You mean our t-shirt company.” Silence. “Didn’t we talk about this?” He looks at the floorboard. “I decided against it.”
“Decided against it?!” I put the car in reverse, and slide into a spot between two Mustangs. This sort of juxtaposition would normally humor me. But not today.
“I don’t blame you,” Steph says, picking sides. “T-shirts are hard to do well. Kind of like remembering how to spell Nebuchadnezzar.”
Will shrugs and whistles as he walks in the service station. “Hurry up,” I yell. He holds the door open for a woman his mother’s age and winks at me. I don’t think he’s frustrated me this bad since our last game Bloody Knuckles.
When Will comes back, he’s carrying two 24 oz. water bottles (for me), and a can of high-octane ginger ale (for him). The former is my payment for driving. Nine bathroom trips a day can help divide the time.
He hops back in, pops the ginger ale open, and pours it in his oversized mug of two-hour old coffee, stirring the contents together with a straw. “Saw a trucker guy do this on TV,” he says, and throws the crumpled can to the floor.
I can’t stop thinking about our date. If all goes well, does it mean we should kiss? You wouldn’t be the first. There’ve been a couple others:
Sissy Jackson was Kiss #1, but that was only to help her win a contest. At the time she had a competition going with Molly B. over who could lock lips with the most boys. Filthy whores.
Oh, and months later I found myself making out with Maureen McCleery (#2). She corrupted my mind underneath the bleachers every day for two weeks. Except kissing her might not count either, since she plays the clarinet.
The parking garage is full. It pains me to witness all these high society people, concerned with things like upward mobility. The brainless. The soulless. The thoroughly uninteresting. On the other side of the spectrum are the mall workers like my sister and me. We have less-cushy jobs, are underpaid, and have found ourselves stuck selling nonessential goods to the painfully rich.
I wonder where Todd will place me now—in Women’s Shoes again, Intimates, or someplace new. I’ve thought a lot about shoes this week, about how the things we put on our feet can make us feel. It’s amazing how much you can learn by staring at shoes.
Stephanie hollers out the window, “You should be taking this recession more seriously!” Her tiny voice gains authority as it echoes in the garage.
She looks back at Will, scraping his tattooed arm with an unclipped fingernail, and whispers not too quietly to me, “So that’s what happens when people watch too much television.”
We’re up to the top floor now, and still haven’t found a spot. I tell her, “Be easy on the guy.”
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