Filed under: Chapter 09 | Tags: 31 flavors, car trouble, Custom Mechanixx, detours, dogs, Josh Bates, Kevin Wilder, mudflap girls, rednecks, Some New Trend, The Beatles, velour, watermelons, What the Helicopter!, Will Sharp
MOTHER NATURE’S SON’S FORMER BEST FRIEND :: BY KEVIN WILDER
“SO WHICH IS IT GONNA BE?” Mindy asks.
I lean over her sales counter to eyeball the shadowy-colored bottles with cryptic, mature names like Acqua di Gio and Dior Homme. “Beats me,” I say. The process tires me out, so I press my arms to the glass, leaving a pair of greasy elbow prints behind. “How ‘bout something spicy, and uh … outlandish.”
Mindy’s hot, in a womanly/mid-twenties sort of way. She’s Italian, Columbian or something. Interestingly enough, she likes to flirt with me, as long as no one’s watching. “I dunno if our colognes meet those qualifications,” Mindy says, licking her lips.
I hate to sound like her nagging younger brother, but I press on. “C’mon. Just gimme what your boyfriends wear.”
She snickers. “You’re such a charmer, Josh. I don’t got any boyfriends.”
“I mean the guys you make out with.”
She jogs around the corner and comes back holding a bottle with a pleasant name. Escape. Her thumb and forefinger squeeze two spritzes on the lapel of my jacket.
“Enough!” I say, grabbing my nose, afraid she’ll go in for a third. I have no idea if the Escape smell fits me or not. My opinion isn’t the one that matters. In another moment I meet Bryanna again, who’s currently off with Rose.
“That’ll get her attention,” Mindy says with conviction, reaching below the counter to retrieve a tube of mascara to apply. This is generally her cue for me to leave.
3:15 p.m. Getting stranded is rarely fun. Getting stranded by a friend hypnotized by a piece of blond eye candy isn’t fun, and getting stranded when your car decides to break down isn’t fun either. The Wise Barista told me to offer June a ride, and now we’re stuck. The Honda puttered pathetically, humming like an insect, before coming to a halt. It wouldn’t be this bad if we were stuck on the highway, where someone might pull over to help. But on a gravel road? Forget it. The situation reminds me of a black-and-white episode of The Twilight Zone: a show I’ve never seen that, I assume, deals with circumstances like this one. A strandee and his new acquaintance get abducted. They’re taken underground as test subjects for a top-secret government project. I wait for this to happen while trying to dazzle June Marley with my ability to answer TV and movie trivia. She lacks interest. Impressing her with this shortcut home probably wasn’t the greatest of my schemes.
I pop the hood to peek at the engine, and yell out to June that something might be wrong with the:
- radiator fan clutch,
- or braking components.
I yank the oil dipstick out, faking like I’m well-versed in auto mechanics. The marked end hits my nose, snapping my aviators down the middle. It takes everything in me to keep from kicking the ground as I wonder what could possibly break next.
While turning away from Mindy’s counter, I hear the sound of keys jangling, coming from the loose khaki pants worn by the man behind me. I jump. Todd’s everywhere these days, emerging from his number-crunching cave to haunt my environment with his patchy goatee and tuneless whistling.
“Howdy Josh,” his parrot-like voice says. “I see you’re making use of our free samples.”
Mindy chimes in with, “We’ve almost made up our mind on the perfect scent.” She realizes me purchasing cologne is unlikely, and adds, “Father’s Day is just around the corner.”
“I’m well aware of that, Mindy,” Todd says. “Even though my father died when I was seven.” He folds his hands. “At any rate, I’ve been looking all over for this little youth.”
His oval head points down to inspect me: his little youth.
“Sorry we’ve been cutting back on your hours lately,” he continues, “but it looks like next week you’ll be getting your wish. We’ll be relocating you to Men’s.”
“It’s perfect,” Todd says, “‘cause you’ll be spending every minute of your day with me.” Todd pats my back. He means this to be a friendly gesture, but it nearly knocks the wind out of me.
“Great,” I force myself into saying, though it feels as if I’m being awarded solitary confinement in Iraq.
“Say,” he adds, “how are the, uh … allergies?”
I sneeze on command (it can be done!) and say, “On the road to recovery.”
Todd’s oblivious. His attention has switched to the spider bite on his leg. He pulls up the hem of his jeans to scratch it.
I say, “Dig those socks, homebro.”
My phone starts ringing. It’s Summerson. I report, “I’d better get this,” and walk off relieved.
The screen on what remains of my cracked Casio Illuminator says 3:34 p.m. Mile marker 12 is not the best first date location when you’re both:
- and swimming in sweat.
I dig through my trunk for creature comforts. There’s only a few objects wedged under my busted skimboard. They are:
- 2 sandy beach towels,
- a melted Germs LP,
- and a warm can of energy drink.
I return to the driver’s seat and smile at June, and once again try cranking the engine. It won’t. Surprisingly, no cars have driven by. The ones that have don’t seem to realize when a boy waves his arms in the median he’s really trying to say “please stop.”
“Maybe Josh can come rescue us,” June says.
I laugh. “Psh. Yeah right. Not after I almost tore him to shreds in the coffee shop. Took everything in me not to humiliate the guy in front of that lousy girl.” I’ve been re-imagining our little squabble all day, and how it should’ve went down.
“Wow,” June says. “Sounds like you guys are on the outs.”
“Nothing unusual,” I tell her.
“Bryanna’s my friend,” she adds. “And she’s actually super cool.”
4:02 p.m. Although it deflates my problem-solving abilities, nearly an hour has passed, so I decide to call my coastal friends for help. Donnie’s an ass and doesn’t pick up, and when I get Carlos I only hear:
- hysterical laughter,
- the “wawk! wawk! wawk!” of seagulls,
- and the bass thumping—somebody’s 2 Live Crew album.
“Hey!” I yell into the phone.
“Huh?” the voice says.
“WE’RE STRANDED AND COULD REALLY USE YOU GUYS’S HELP!”
“Can’t—hear—you,” Carlos says. Or, I think that’s what he’s saying. His voice is masked behind distorted beach hubbub. Good friends are hard to find.
I press my head into the steering wheel, honking the horn.
“I really like your photos,” June says, adding comfort to the circumstances. “Maybe you can help me find a camera. Mom said she might get me one for my birthday.”
“I’ve got a bunch you can borrow. Hey, you should lemme take some photos of you. For my portfolio.”
She nods. I can’t tell if she looks spooked or sleepy.
“Maybe you should text Josh,” I tell June. “He might be the least loyal friend in the history of friends, but I bet he’ll still respond to you.”
“I dunno,” she says.
“Fine,” I say. “Then maybe I’ll bug the car company. After all, they’re the ones who got us into this mess.” I peel the Custom Mechanixx business card off my cup holder, unable to tell if the last number’s an 8 or a 3. My first guess seems to work. It rings for two minutes without an answer.
Finally, I resort to family: “Hello? William? Can’t talk now. In the middle of a meeting.”
I put Dad on speakerphone and yell, “Me and a friend are in the middle of some watermelon patch, and my car won’t start!”
“You’re where?” Dad says, against the sound of shuffling papers. “Dang, Son, why didn’t you tell me? I’ll try your mother.” And then he hangs up.
At the What the Helicopter! kiosk employees are trained to keep helicopters swarming overhead all day. The tiny aircrafts must stay high enough to not interfere with people’s heads. Bryanna and I stroll by the stand, avoiding the militant salesmen. They expect folks to buy helicopters for themselves and their mothers and fathers, ignoring the fact that the majority won’t have a use for a helicopter, and always neglecting the possibility that some people, like Todd, might not have a mother or father at all. Regular mallgoers must master skills like speed walking and denial of speaking English. Even the most radical salesmen will eventually give up.
Bryanna Elizabeth Summerson. What else compares to a name like that? I think only of majestic streams and lagoons. I’d like to purchase a body of water someday, and name it Summerson Cove. Or Bryanna Harbor. Except, I’m not quite sure if individuals can acquire really large bodies of water. A quaint pond or spring might have to do, sometime after I’ve received international recognition as Frank Gehry’s successor.
Who would’ve guessed I could make it through my adolescent years without too many noogies, swirlies, wet willies, or wedgies, and somehow still come out on top? The prettiest girl in school—you—is sitting on a bench with me by the Food Court fountains. You dip your hand in the water as we watch it blast into the air by way of artificial jets, straight through statues of dolphins and fish. I feel my insecurities waning, due to the simple fact that you haven’t fled for the door yet. Let Joshua Spurgeon Bates be proof, nothing is impossible. Today your love, tomorrow the world.
There’s less to say today, but maybe that’s not bad. Not talking considerably decreases my chances of acting weird. As Bryanna makes a phone call—Rose again—I wonder where we’ll go next. As far as I know, a boy can only win so many arcade prizes for a girl before she starts demanding more creativity. I once overheard Dylan tell a kid, “All girls have a sweet tooth. They’ll never pass up ice cream. Skinny or fat, doesn’t matter.” Since I’m running out of conversational lead-ins, I ask Bryanna if she’s in the mood for some Baskin-Robbins.
She smiles and says, “Totally.”
On our short walk over, we spot a lady wearing a pink velour suit. A tiny black dog pops his head out of her rhinestone-studded bag and licks her elbow. When the woman walks away petting him, Bryanna points out the word “SAUCY” printed in glittery letters on the butt of her pants.
After sampling some of the 31 flavors, I choose a cone of Pistachio Almond and Bryanna opts for Daiquiri Ice. “I take this as evidence you’re ready for college,” I say, finding a table for two.
She pays no mind to my joke, and while I contemplate repeating it asks, “Can you believe June left? I mean, I thought we decided to do everything together from now on.”
I wonder, Is it really that bad being stuck with me?
I reflect on Stephanie’s friend’s independence and say, “Are you sure June agreed to that?” The validity of their sudden friendship is puzzling.
“Who was that guy she ran off with?” Bryanna asks.
“Oh. That would be Will.”
“Is he your friend?” she asks.
“Sometimes. Not so much at the moment.”
“I’m sorry,” she says. “Sounds horrible.”
“It’s not,” I respond. “And don’t be sorry. You don’t know him like I do.”
“Well how does it make you feel, him and June being together?”
“They’re definitely not together,” I say, and for the first time ever start to worry about it. I look up to observe some light fixtures hanging high above our heads. “June would never go for him. Trust me.”
4:40 p.m. A corny Beatles ballad plays on the only station we can find with clear reception. I ask June why every song has to be about love.
Love isn’t everything. In fact, in most cases it reminds me of torture. If a guy ran off with another man’s woman in Medieval times, they’d strap him to a rack and crank a wheel that stretched his arms and legs. As the guy’s joints began dislocating, one soldier would light a fire under him while another whacked and stabbed his body with a stick. The whole process was pretty humiliating—a lot like love.
Soon after June gets out to stretch her legs, a very large truck driven by a very large redneck pulls up behind us to park. The driver walks to my window. He says “Y’alright?”
“Can’t get this thing started,” I tell him.
“Ya got four wheel drive?” he asks.
“What does that have to do with anything?” I say, ruder than intended.
“Git out,” the man says. He spits a wad of Red Man Golden Blend on the ground and takes a seat to fumble with the ignition. “Lessee here.”
I’d feel bad imagining this Good Samaritan looking like a cadaver. If I learned anything from my years spent in Georgia, it’s that not all bearded hicks are bad people. In a way I’d like to make friends with the guy. He might own a cabin in the woods packed with weapons and divine pieces from some local taxidermist.
But my hillbilly-stereotype-meter goes off as I examine the pickup’s:
- gun rack,
- silhouetted mudflap girls,
- and “Heritage Not Hate” sticker adhered to the back window.
There’s also a:
- mix breed hunting dog sitting and panting in the bed,
- some buckets of what looks like swimming pool chemicals beside the dog,
- and a lady riding shotgun wearing a Hooters tank top, several sizes too small.
“Looks like yer outta gas,” the man says, head cocked to one side.
I couldn’t feel dumber.
“You sure?” I ask, looking back to make sure June can’t hear. “How far to the next service station?”
“I’d say yer ‘bout halfway.”
“Halfway from where?”
5:03 p.m. June has fallen asleep in the passenger seat, so I find a fallen branch and start clearing my path through thick weeds. To make the most of the situation, I start snapping photos of watermelons. Guess my wish for being outdoors was granted.
If June and I spent several weeks out here, it’d be like a cross between Survivorman and The Bachelor, except much cooler. I’d need to buy a new crossbow and fix my rod and reel, assuming some wildlife and streams are nearby.
The last person I feel like thinking about is Josh, but I decide that his actions have merited an evil voicemail message.
Bryanna’s attention is fixed on a rack of clothes, and I notice an incoming call. It’s Will. Should I take it?
The last time we were involved in a dispute of this magnitude, Will had just finished selling Lucky Strikes to some younger kids outside of church. The next day a seething parent called my dad. Dad yelled at me for bringing Will, I yelled at Will for bringing cigarettes, and Will pushed me into a basketball goalpost. We didn’t talk for three days.
I take the call. “If you wanna throw more chairs, come up here and get it over with. It’ll be so much easier to fight in person.” I don’t really want him to spoil the party, but this might be the only way to make amends.
“Still at the mall with what’s-her-face?” he says, sounding abnormally monotone.
“That is correct my good man.” I look back at Bryanna, who’s trying on a gigantic belt over her blouse. “Sorry again for ruining your watch.” I whisper, “Come back up here. I think you’ll enjoy what she’s wearing today.”
“Can’t. Me and June are stuck. Car broke down in the country on the way to her place. Sucks bad.” He begins whispering, too. “I got a bad case of swamp ass.”
I laugh. “Well I’m sorry for that also, but what’s new?”
“You don’t understand. There’s nothing around to wipe with.”
“Find a leaf or something,” I tell him. “Why don’t you call a taxi and get back over here. The four of us can make something happen.” My manipulative efforts don’t seem to be working … “Hello?”
5:35 p.m. I hang up and look across the field, at crops stretching out for miles and miles. “Those are some really nice melons,” I say aloud. I wonder how much money could be earned by selling them. With enough dedication, hundreds if not thousands. “I’ll show you a summer job,” I say.
For the next twenty minutes, with June still asleep in the car, I’m slogging up and down the hill, the sun beating on my neck. It takes several trips to carry enough watermelons to fill the backseat and trunk. It’s a great exercise, toting one under each arm, so I remove the shirt Dylan mocked earlier, just to get into the spirit of the thing. I feel accomplished when the job’s done. If there was a way to cut a watermelon open, I would. June and I could have some fun spitting seeds at one another, making a mess.
A noise crescendos. It’s the truck from earlier. His dog and woman are gone, and the man hops out with a red can and starts walking toward the Honda. He’s brought fuel!
“That’s awfully nice of you,” I tell him.
“Don’ mention it, pardner.” Putting in the gas, he removes his sunglasses and presses his sunburned forehead to the rear window. The truck’s noise has woken June up, so I search my backpack for another muscle shirt.
The man wails, “Wha’d you take ma diddy’s waddermelons for?!”
“Your diddy’s?” June asks.
He looks heartbroken, near tears. “Now you two can pay fer eacha them melons, er you can take e’ry single one back where you found ‘em!”
He gives the gas can a yank, and carelessly spills a little on the road.
“You listenin’ tuh me?” he asks.
I can’t imagine the pains of lugging each melon back to the proper spot, so I remove the rubber band from a wad of cash and hand plenty to the oaf. June looks frightened. “Think this’ll take care of it?”
He takes the money, and flips through the loose bills.
“For bringing the gas, too, I mean.”
He shakes his head, and says, “Go on.” and walks back to his truck muttering curses the whole way.
June hollers out, “Thanks again!” but the Samaritan is already gone.
When 6:10 p.m. rolls around, Josh sends a text to June:
Hey. Sorry ab what happened.
We can come get you guys if you want.
She holds it up for me to see, and I grab the phone from her hand to respond:
u had ur chance DIRTBAG
“Hey!” she says, and takes it back to counter my message with an explanation.
I get out my own phone. I never knew the time would come where I’d have to delete Josh’s number, but mashing the button is quick and relatively painless.
Though we’re hours behind the original plan, I’ve finally made it in front of June’s little town home. “I’ll call you later,” I say. After our miserable day, I’m dying to make it up to her.
“Alright,” she says hesitantly.
She walks away. I look at her torn jeans and sigh. “Hey June?”
“Yeah?” June backtracks bashfully.
“Take a watermelon. For your family.”
She gives me a strange look, and says, “If you insist. Guess they are technically yours to give now.”
“Got that right,” I say. I take my time digging through the backseat in search of the best one we can find.
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