Filed under: Chapter 13 | Tags: Audubon Autobahn, Aveda, cassette, Cineplex, Fiona Apple, Flowbee, Forever 21, goths, Gymboree, Hammond, Jerry Lee Lewis, Josh Bates, Kevin Wilder, Lifeway, Organ Antics, PacSun, Some New Trend, Star Wars/Trek, The Disney Store, Vincent Price
WHILE JUNE FINISHES FILLING OUT W2s, Bryanna and I sit outside Hot Topic and wait. I observe my hand. The automatic movement: gone. Before my existence was recognized by Bryanna—and long before I could detect any admiration in my senses for June—I’d been tap-tapping my fingers on my Levi’s with the maniacal twitches of a crack addict (only difference being the worst substance abuse of my life was the time I chewed and swallowed an entire pack of gum in a single morning.) Where insecurities were, a tiny amount of courage now grows. It’s small, but feeding and taking up camp. Hopefully forever.
Five days is a new record for having Will Sharp out of my hair. I’m not exactly heartbroken about it, either. We’ve fought plenty of times in the past. Until now, mostly fake-wrestling, where the weight of Will always crushes my frame. But more often than that we’ve nearly killed one another with words. It’s just what brothers do. Or what brothers did, I should say. But today wasn’t made for reminiscing on old friendships. For better or worse, today was made for shopping. I realize now that to girls “shopping” doesn’t always mean “buying things,” but more often suggests “disposing of time at breakneck speed.”
Emotions run high with two girls around. Trust me: I’ve had to remind myself constantly that my feelings for June Marley were nothing more than a fluke. Misguided and erroneous. We work better as friends (I’ll say it again: what kind of person would monopolize all the world’s happiness?). Bryanna is mine, even during those times where she appears to be out of her element, like girl singers who try their best to sound like Fiona Apple. Are we dating? It’s difficult to say that we are with June around. But we’re certainly more than friends. These two girls might be my only friends, in the wake of Will’s disappearance. They’re upgrades, too. Not only with their looks, but with everything.
We look out a glass elevator, and ascend to new places.
“Where are we going again?” June’s asking Bryanna moments later.
“Never been there,” June says.
Bryanna makes a face that says, You can’t be serious.
Inside, I lift a dress of the skimpy sort and ask, “How can something this small and transparent be so expensive?”
“Not sure. Remember we’re not looking for hooker apparel, kay?”
Bryanna’s in search for a new dress for a particular popular person party. Before, Will would kill me if he knew I’d been entertaining thoughts of going (except he already did almost kill me when he gave me that bloody lip). And of course, he’d then forgive me if he saw the girls’ names on the guest list.
I ask Bryanna curiously, “How should we dress?”
She stalls. “I’ll uh…have to check with Rose to see if I can bring you guys.” She pats June’s shoulder and says, “Don’t take it personal, if it’s like an invitation-only thing.”
“It’s cool,” June says, even though I can tell her feelings are hurt. She hides the impact.
I think about the few friends of Bryanna’s I’ve had the opportunity of meeting, several whom Will once referred to as “prime candidates for teen pregnancies.”
An excuse might be unnecessary, but I say, “Think I’m gonna be at church with Dad that night. I’m s’posed to help him rearrange some chairs for a funeral service.”
In Aveda, June walks off to observe some aerodynamic pomade. A wide-eyed woman offers me a hand massage.
“Um, excuse me?” Bryanna says, sulking behind me with an armful of bags.
“Honey,” I say, “it’s her job. It’s just what she does.” I’ve been using pet names with her all day, half-jokingly, once or twice even pushing that we’re a married couple, far fetched as the possibilities might be. I’m embarrassed having to apologize to the lady for declining her hand massage offer. Witnessing Bry’s outburst might even be stranger than actually receiving the thing.
“Uh oh,” June says, looking at Bryanna’s watch. “Gotta jet. Can’t be late for my first shift.”
“Good luck!” she says. “You’ll do great.”
I say, “Peace,” and give June a wink. I do it by accident, but as she exits it looks like she might be smiling.
I’m not sure why anyone under twelve would want to be caught dead in The Disney Store, but for some reason Bryanna and I wander in. I’m impressed to see how well they’ve managed to cram the entire city of Orlando in a room under 1,500 square feet. I’m equally nervous they’ll charge us for a photo-keychain, or some other piece of memorabilia to commemorate our brief and unmemorable visit. But then again, it would be nice to have a picture of Bryanna on my bedside table, her blonde hair sticking out from under mouse ears.
“Welp, that was weird,” she says.
“Was it?” I ask, wondering if she’s referring to June or the life-sized Pluto a child was just holding.
Gymboree seems like a good place to test the waters, so I take my game a step further and ask Bryanna what she thinks our kids will look like.
“They’ll be hot,” she says. “At least if they’re born looking like me, but have your intelligence.”
“Kidding,” she says. “You don’t got any intelligence, Joshy.”
“Double ouch.” But I can’t be too mad. Not while she’s calling me “Joshy.”
Bryanna slows down. She’s wearing a somewhat pissed expression, and says, “I hate it when I don’t find what I’m looking for.”
“Hmm. Then why don’t we take a break?”
I hold my collar and offer the most horrible of suggestions: “To Radio Shack.”
“It’s a nice tranquil place, made for putting people’s minds at ease. Plus you can get to see where the real nerds hang out.”
“What about the arcade?” she asks. “Those nerds don’t count?”
“Trust me,” I say.
It feels good to be walking in a sterile place like Radio Shack—one that continues to sell radio components to a generation that would never dream of dismantling their broken iPods, much less home stereos. I look at a surveillance camera, and contemplate using the entire day to conduct a series of tests. Like a spy, I could remain covert, to find out if Bryanna is open to discovering new things, like various bands, clothing, or nerd hobbies. It could be like in those teen movies, where the popular girl befriends the valedictorian loser, dolling her up so some sensitive athlete will realize she exists (except it’ll be the other way around, since I’ll be dweebing her down). It might be a cruel tactic. Also, do I really want to know the results?
The last time I walked into Radio Shack, Will was in the middle of his Construct Your Own Plasma TV From Scratch phase. If I recall right, this was immediately after his Dirt Bike Racing fetish, and several months before his Designer Toy obsession. It’s funny to think I supported him through each of these. Normally the store is overrun with Star Wars and Star Trek fans—two categories of freaks which are basically the same—so I’m disappointed to find the place lacking either today. The only shoppers inside are a man and his little girl. She’s asking him questions about transistors while he toys with a circuit board on a shelf. I try to ignore their conversation. It’s astoundingly difficult.
Reaching for Bry’s hand feels like a big leap, but she grabs it without hesitation. I can’t get over how soft her fingers feel—like warm campfire marshmallows.
“So Josh,” she says professorially. “You still haven’t made me a CD of your favorite music.” We stand beside a cell phone display and wait for a staff member to talk us into signing a two-year contract.
“You’re right,” I say. “But to craft a sonic experience in under 80 minutes, it helps to have a theme. Can you give me something to go on?”
“A theme?” she asks. “You mean like eighties rock or punk?”
I gag. “Heavens no! Those two categories would be impossible to condense. How about…A Brief Summary of Teenage Desperation in Suburban America, or—”
“What’s your favorite band?” she interrupts, reeling me back in to reality. Do I tell her this is like questioning a six year old on what their favorite cereal is? (With so many varieties, how do you pick?)
“It changes a lot,” I say. “But I always go back to this group called Audubon Autobahn.”
“They’re super experimental,” I say, “with songs centered on aviary studies, and the German and Swiss expressways. They record something every year, and release it only in cassette format, just to keep things equal parts frustrating and amazing.”
“You’re weird,” she says. I have to remind myself this is only Bryanna-speak for “your creativity simply astounds me.”
She twirls around, rests her head on my shoulder, and we leave.
Can we find our middle ground in the downstairs shops? In a state like Florida, places like PacSun are bound to have something for everybody. You suggested another trip to Wet Seal, but that might only magnify our differences. Not because they sell women’s clothes—I’m quite used to that—but mainly for the headaches a store like that is bound to produce.
Bryanna asks, “Did you ever meet Danny Quidmelle?”
“No,” I say. “But I’m quite aware of who he is.”
She looks down and says, “He was the worst of all.”
I manage to hold back from repeating any of the jokes we used to crack on the guy, like how Danny looked like a thirty-something year-old Jonas brother. “Do tell,” I say, putting a comforting arm around her waist.
In the past few days I’ve heard at least a million ex-boyfriend stories of epic proportion. She obviously has a lot recover from. I never realized guys our age actually said things like “this is where the magic happens” while showing girls their bedrooms, but I guess it’s pretty much the norm. And bad Reality TV dialogue is only the beginning.
“How awful was Danny?” I ask. “Did he hit you?”
“Oh gosh no,” she says. “But I probably hit him a few times.”
I rack my brain for a new topic, mainly to avoid becoming depressed. It might be bolder than Radio Shack or hand-holding, but I’m curious to witness her reactions toward a place like Organ Antics. Bryanna’s views regarding my favorite store won’t dictate my future affections toward it, or her, but if she approves, this will certainly be a small victory. I’ve never converted someone to the dark/odd side before, unless you count the profound influence I’ve had on Stephanie. I wonder if I’m up for it.
Organ Antics sells not only organs, but keyboards, sheet music, piano neckties and other knickknacks. It’s a deserted store, with this sort of morgue meets 19th century antique library feel. Oh, and each of the employees resembles a latter-day Vincent Price. The carpet’s dark beige, the walls light beige, and every few feet there are coffee and gum stains, giving the whole place this misshapen indoor graveyard quality. All’s silent within Organ Antics, except for the hum of the Hammond and the sound of the Yamaha YDP113 firing up.
“They seem to be getting with the times,” I say, leading her past a few MIDI-sampling machines in the entranceway.
Occassionally a real goth will make an appearance in the shop, the Transylvanian ambiance drawing him or her in. It makes no difference if one subscribes to Jimmy Buffet, or Ernest Hemingway’s aesthetic interpretation of Florida (the two are basically the same, with varying degrees of sophistication): this type of bleak environment is a rare find in our state.
We flick price tags hanging from organs while browsing. They’re as big as our heads, with prices scribbled in bold-tipped Sharpie ink for the near-blind. An occasional spiderweb or crawling cockroach is never unusual, but today the shop appears to be in order.
Like Lifeway, Stephanie and I made our first trip to Organ Antics with Dad. To this day he’d buy every instrument if he could. Too bad it’s all imported and overpriced.
The workers expect to find me wandering in, but the girl hanging on my arm is a new face. Normally they’d wave, but now they’re struggling to sell a keyboard to the only customer they’ll see all day.
“She wants to know much for this one,” a suited Vincent Price tells his correspondent.
“Discounted! As of today!” another Vincent Price responds, typing away at his pocket calculator. “Only thirty four hundred dollars!”
“Oh me!” the wrinkled woman says, as she hurries off flustered.
“Is there any meaning in our lives that the inevitable death awaiting us does not destroy?” I say, eyes fixed on a baby grand.
“Huh?” Bryanna asks.
“Tolstoy said that,” I tell her with a sigh. “Sort of funny, isn’t it?”
“You shouldn’t think so much,” she says, grabbing hold of my hand again. “Just take it easy.”
I whisper, “Want me to play something I wrote for you?”
The two of us sit on a mahogany bench. I crack my knuckles, and for a second I try to channel the ghost of Jerry Lee Lewis. I realize this is absurd, since Jerry Lee happens to still be alive. Ray Charles’s ghost will have to do. My fingers launch into one of the only songs they know on the black-and-whites: The Addams Family theme.
Usually when I play the song, Will tries to get us kicked out by turning the volume up to eleven decibels. The Vincents enjoy the tune too much to care, but I usually wuss out and make him stop at seven or eight.
“You wrote this for me?” Bryanna asks, and her face turns red. And then, after getting the joke, she slaps my arm. She says, “I LOVE The Munsters!”
I grin. Concentrating on the song makes it difficult to correct her faulty spooky TV expertise. Before we reach the part where the Vincents snap along, a girl sits down on the other side of me.
My chest sinks as I feel her stare on the side of my face. It’s Maureen McCleery: the clarinet-playing/kiss-you-under-the-bleachers girl from school! Turned GOTH!
I’m left with no choice but to stop.
“Hello there, Josh,” Maureen says. She looks at Bryanna and flares her nostrils.
“Oh, hi Maureen,” I say sheepishly. I grab Bryanna’s arm, and usher her to safety.
Bryanna whines while removing some hand sanitizer from her bag. “What’s with you?”
“Forget it,” I say.
“Sorry, but that place kinda gives me the creeps.”
I try to think of ways to bounce back. If I don’t act fast, we might be trying on outfits all day—something my profession has made me far too familiar with.
Should we visit Stephanie at Kirkland’s? It might help having another person to talk to, to alleviate the pressure of having to entertain. Maybe not. She’s bound to make one of us look stupid.
We take a seat on the benches to stretch our legs. After several minutes of no communication she says, “There’s gotta be a catch with you. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”
“I dunno,” I say, then after a minute add, “Will and I used to steal Netflix movies from people’s mailboxes, then we watch ‘em ourselves.”
She rolls her eyes. “That’s it?”
“Oh, and once I drove for eleven miles without wearing a seat belt. Just to prove I could.”
“A couple times Will’s talked me into starting businesses with him.”
I stop myself before mentioning the t-shirt company. The drama’s too new. Instead I launch into a story about the time we started a barber shop, charging younger kids for haircuts, using the Flowbee Will’s dad purchased on eBay.
Bryanna laughs uncontrollably and I smile. “So much time wasted,” I say.
Her phone rings.
Could it be an ex? Will she leave me out to dry?
Thankfully, Bryanna seems to employ the kind of tone girls only use with one another. “We’re thinking about going to a movie,” she says. “I wish you could come!”
I don’t remember any mention of going to the Cineplex, and hold out my wallet to show her my last ten-spot inside. She doesn’t get it. If this were Will, I might be swindled into sneaking in the side doors while people exit. He’s been doing this since they started carding him for R-rated action flicks.
Since we’re early, Bryanna orders a large popcorn, a medium Sunkist, and a box of Whoppers, and waits for me to pay the stoned cashier. She looks surprised when once again I have to explain how I’m out of cash.
The movie’s okay. I never thought the world needed another Terminator sequel.
With a bellyful of candy from the Sugar Stand I ask, “So what now?”
“Hmm. You can go to Nail Trix and watch me get a pedi.”
“What the heck’s a—”
“Or maybe a mani,” she says. “You can get one too, if you want.”
“Really?” She gives me a big hug. “No guy has ever done anything like this with me. It’ll be sooo cool.”
I start to hate myself. I have no idea what we’re about to do, nor do I know if it’ll cost me five or five hundred dollars—neither of which I have.
Bryanna pauses. She asks, “Do you think June’s cute?”
How’s a guy supposed to respond?
“Guess so,” I say.
“I mean, it’s obvious you really like her.”
I try to keep myself safe by adding, “No way. She’s like my sister’s best friend.” I wonder if this is true anymore, since there haven’t been any pajama parties as of late. I’d be the first to know. “Plus she’s not really my type.”
She looks distraught, but says, “Of course, I wouldn’t really care if you did.”
“Stop looking at me like that!” I say. “Dating your sister’s friend violates a ton of rules!”
Bryanna gives an apathetic sigh. “Yeah. Maybe. But Steph’s too busy for her anyway. June’s kinda over it—Steph always ditching her and stuff.”
“Did she say that?”
“They’re just in different worlds. Kirkland’s and Hot Topic employees aren’t exactly kindred spirits, you know.”
If she’s trying to confuse me now, it’s working spectacularly. My sister never would’ve chosen a place like Kirkland’s, but rather it chose her. And if a stupid store makes the two of them different, wouldn’t that mean Bryanna and June were from separate galaxies altogether?
“Watching friendships split is just a part of life,” she adds, and rubs my head the way someone might a developmentally-challenged nephew.
I lag behind as she leads the way into the awful pink parlor.
We sit and wait for service. I feel like we’re in the worst kind of doctor’s office, except one that only performs cosmetic surgery on the exterior toenail. I text June:
What have i got myself into?
I look at her looking at the price list, and find it all pointless. Buying paint that will disappear in less than a week. After Bryanna chooses her color, starts flipping through an issue of Us Weekly.
I hide my phone as it buzzes with a response:
What do u mean?
I type like a madman:
Is it not obvious? take a wild guess
A guy never wants to admit when he’s made a crappy decision, even after his life is filled with them. You lose your best friend and you get the wrong girl, all in one summer. To quote Solomon, these past couple of months have been a chase after the wind. Vanity of vanities. All is vanity! It sucks but it’s true.
I’ve been making planetary orbits around the Summerson galaxy for so long now, chasing some new trend until it hurts—so much that it feels like I may never find my way back to earth again. Conquering the vastness of space didn’t end up being as “far out” as I anticipated. To be truthful, it all seemed pretty boring.
I shift my attention from the lady painting Bryanna’s toes to my phone, anticipating a response. It’s slow to come:
Girls like June are not only hard to come by, but damn near impossible to find. I never knew a girl like her could live on a planet like ours, much less in the sweltering state of Florida.
Yesterday morning Dylan told me a parable of the highly-secular variety. He said, “The old joke goes like this: A father and son are grilling hamburgers in their backyard. The son tells his dad about two girls: one he likes and one he knows he can have. And what does the dad say? ‘Son, I can save you a lot of trouble by giving you this simple advice.’ The kid looks at his father, all ears. ‘Always go for the girl who understands you. Choose her over the pretty one and you’ll be fine.’ The kid looks down at an anthill, discouraged, and says, ‘I understand what you’re saying. But then why do I still like the pretty one?’”
Okay, maybe it wasn’t really a joke, nor did it happen to be very funny. But boy was it accurate.
This time I type:
Don’t go anywhere
And I wonder if shifting parties is even allowed. If I ran for the oval office of June Marley’s heart, she could make me feel like the president. With June as my first lady, the two of us could take the U.S. by storm. Maybe I could be re-elected for another term, and with her help, we could make sure not to start any new wars.
Sometimes a guy’s got a lot to lose by winning. But if all roads lead to one end, is it absurd to think Bryanna was meant to be the vehicle to transport me to June all along?
I jolt up and shout, “Hey Bryanna.”
She raises her eyebrows with annoyance, and replies from her chair, “Not now, Josh, I—”
I take a deep breath. “I’m gonna split. It was nice hanging out with you.”
“Wait! Where do you think you’re going?” she asks.
But I can’t look back. I’m already on my way.
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