E
Oct/Nov 2020 Fiction

Ten Bucks Says He Beats Her

by Thomas Kearnes

Public domain street art


So, I'm just standing there behind the register, and I'm wondering if Dex saw my new dye job on Twitter or Instagram or maybe Snapchat. I can feel my heart act the fool in my chest, and my skin gets hot. My hair is long and black, like the crazy chick from that old horror movie, The Ring. Seriously, I could be the girlfriend of some mass shooter, the one who knew what would happen but just stayed home and watched The Price Is Right. I think Dex will love it.

Wade hasn't mentioned it. He says I should, like, pay more attention. I've been here over a year, he says, and I've totally taken orders from baby-rapists and armed robbers. Maybe even a murderer. It's simple statistics, he says. He can't believe I'm not curious about the losers who want a cheeseburger and a shake. It doesn't matter. The child molester isn't molesting me, the armed robber isn't robbing me. Wade looks at me like I'm some pathetic freshman, still wearing Affliction shirts. I feel bad... or maybe I feel nothing. It's, like, the same sensation.

Anyway, while I'm thinking about Dex, I notice Wade staring out into the dining area. He asks me, he says, do you think that dude with his three kids is on meth? Before I turn to look, I roll my eyes and agree.

I took his order. He was sweating like a fat-ass in gym class. Even his wife-beater hung from shoulders, like he'd lost a lot of weight just last week or whatever. And when one kid opened her trap, he turned to the wrong kid, thought it was her talking. Oh, totally, I tell Wade. You should see if he wants to party.

Okay, fine. I'm a bitch. I know Wade is trying to live clean. I always imagine some Mexican maid when I hear that: live clean. All my thoughts and prayers are with him, but he was eye-fucking that speed freak. Seriously.

That old fossil, Eileen, shuffles our way. She's a team leader, not a manager. She's either too brain-dead to know the difference, or she has major control issues. Have those feed-sack tits ever pointed out instead of down?

So, Wade asks Eileen if there's anything we can do about Father of the Year, and she says no. He might sue. Oh, and two of the kids are totally sobbing now. The other customers stare, but think about it: do you care who's watching when you're high? One customer glares at me, so evil, like it's my fault the crying won't stop. I'm, like, eat your burger, bitch. Not really, that would be super-dumb, but when I imagine myself doing it, I feel badass.

Now Wade's waiting on some Crossfit creature and his skinny little slut. She won't look at anyone but him, and when Wade asks her what she wants, he totally answers for her. So, like, they go find a table, and Wade leans over and whispers, Ten bucks says he beats her. Hell no, Elmo! Some asshole hits me, I go into bitch mode.

Loser Eileen hasn't left. She whispers to Wade that she'll take his ten and raise him another ten. Like, why hasn't she left? She tells us her ex-husband used to slap her around and call her a whore. That was a total over-share. You don't tell your friends that personal crap, and we're not even her friends. She says women who stay with those types of men secretly like it. I'm, like, go away, Eileen!

The phone won't stop ringing. Cashiers don't have to answer, and that gives the other losers who work here one more reason to hate us. If I could answer, I'd say, this is Busy Burger, what the fuck? Actually, it's my mom on the line. I bet she and Eileen talk about how old and sad they both are. I'm totally kidding.

So, anyway, my mom can't pick me up from work. The next shift will be here in half an hour. I'm totally fucked. Wade's the only one who can help. Everyone back in the kitchen ignores me. So fucking rude. Just because they're no good at English and I'm an actual American. Anyway, Wade has a cow when I ask for a ride. He says his boyfriend is waiting, and he can't be late. If he can't drive me, I tell him in my little-girl voice, I'll have to walk home in the dark. Men in cars might slow down, lean out their windows and call me baby. They might rape me, and my friend in biology says rape sucks in ways you can't even imagine. He finally says okay, but we have to go to his place first.

 

I've always wondered how Wade landed such a sweet ride. It's some tricked-out Corvette older than me. It feels awesome outside, but he won't take the top down. He'd die if any of his anal-entry buddies knew he worked at Busy Burger. He won't even friend me on Facebook 'cause why else would he know a 16-year-old girl.

I ask if we can have some tunes. This dude totally still listens to actual radio stations, like, with towers and contests and shit. Doesn't he know satellite radio is so much better? He gets this really annoying look. He's reminding me he's the adult and I'm not. I just keep smiling. It doesn't fucking matter 'cause the news is on, so I space out for a bit. I hate the news. It's just a bunch of sad and scary crap happening to people I don't know and never will.

Ugh. Some Marine walked into the mall in, like, Omaha and just went thug-life on everyone. Thirty-five people are definitely dead, but a few more might bite it in the hospital.

Wade's looking really serious right now. He's having a grown-up moment, and I'll never get it because no grown-up will explain them. Seriously, I'm not sure he even remembers I'm here. He's pretty cute—and a year older than my dad in Florida. I've never met my dad, but I've seen pictures. Wade's arms are stringy, but his legs are thick and have sexy tone. He calls it the Busy Burger workout. That's funny. He has a kind face, but Mom says gay dudes can be tricky and I should watch out.

I hope she's okay. Whenever she calls at work with whatever excuse, I can't make myself believe her. I try real hard, and I try to remember all the cool things my mom has done, but she's a total liar. Seriously, my mom is kind of a whore, but whenever she calls and Eileen answers, I'm just glad she remembered me.

Fuckin' people, Wade says, what's the goddamn point? The sun's setting, and the glare's a bitch. We're both squinting, and we can't really see each other. I think that's a good thing right now. When I finally find his face, it's so heartbreaking. He's trying so hard not to cry, but seriously, mass shooting bullshit has been happening, like, since I was in diapers. This is America. Some people win the lottery, and other people get shot in the face. It's all luck. Seriously, build a bridge and get over it.

I check my phone. No texts from Dex. Hey, that rhymes. I'm badass like that. I'd love to be his play-cousin, but thinking about the whole fucking script every high-school girl has to play out just to get a guy—it makes me tired. That sad and empty feeling sneaks up on me.

We exit the freeway. I don't know Wade's telling me a story till, like, he's already started. He was a grad student at, like, that big-ass university in Austin. He lived in a co-op, which sounds like a dorm except you can visit any room you want. Sweet. Wade had invited some random dude to spend the weekend with him. He had his own room. His name was Duncan. Wade announces that he loved him, but I don't believe him. Seriously, I don't think he believes himself. They were flipping channels, and all the big networks and cable news were airing video from a big, ugly school in Colorado. It looked like a prison, he says. There were tons of cops, high-school kids filing out holding their hands together behind their heads. It sounds like a rap video, except everyone is white because it's Colorado.

Columbine, he says, was the first major mass shooting at an American school. The news couldn't stop blabbing about it. They dug up dirt on people who just happened to know people from there. Six degrees, you know? Wade says America lost her innocence that day, and—I can't help it—I laugh like a retard. For the first time since he started his story, he looks at me. He doesn't, like, look hurt or whatever. He just looks done.

I remind him the Omaha shootings were in a mall, not a school. Also, and I'm not trying to be a bitch, but no one's gonna miss a few Kansas rednecks, anyway.

He sounds big and hollow, like a drum. Omaha is in Nebraska, Nikki. Nebraska, not Kansas.

He pulls in under a carport, parking in a numbered slot. This complex looks major shady. A few tenants, none of them white, not that I pay attention to that kind of thing, pretend they're not watching. Horrible Tejano music thumps against the passenger window. When I step out, it feels like the woofer is right beside my fucking head.

Two toddlers are playing in the tiny-ass yard in front of his neighbor's unit. Even their Barbie dolls look ghetto. Most of the hair is pulled out, and they're naked. While I'm watching them, one kid takes her doll, with its pointed feet, and stabs the other in the eye. Seriously, it's fucking disturbing. I'm practically up Wade's ass, I'm so scared. The toddler who got stabbed in the eye screams for mommy. The trashy bitches watching me and Wade the whole time, none of them give a shit.

Wade pulls me inside and slams the door. It has four separate, individual locks.

As he slides the last deadbolt into place, I totally remember my fucking phone. It's still in the passenger seat. Seriously, I tell him, someone could steal it. What I don't tell him is I'm still hoping Dex will call. Wade shushes me, like, actually shushes me like I'm a baby, says we have to talk quiet. Chuck is resting down the hall in their bedroom. Five minutes, he says. Just give me five minutes, and I'll take you home. Promise? I know when my mom makes a promise, it means zippo if a man calls after that. I need to think of some bullshit story for why I'm getting home so late. Wade promises just five minutes. He kisses my forehead, and it's, like, something a dad would do. I mean, I'm not sure about that. I've seen it on TV.

He gently takes my hand, like I'm blindfolded or whatever, and we enter a dark room. He guides me to a recliner. I can make out just enough to see a lamp beside me. When I reach for it, Wade smacks my hand like I'm five and he's the boss of me. Hell no, Elmo! I call him an asshole. Seriously, I'm not quiet about it. The Tejano music bleeds through the walls. We should keep things dark, Nikki. Just trust me.

I sigh, make a big deal out of it, and fall back into the recliner. His footsteps fade down the hall. I hear a door open and shut. Five minutes. I can totally handle five minutes. I've always wanted to know how faggots decorate their homes. Seriously, I've heard rumors. I'm tempted to turn on the lamp anyway.

You goddamn cocksucker, what did you promise me?!?

Dude, from the room at the end of the hall! Shit just got real. The voice is so hoarse and strained, I can't tell if it belongs to Wade. I wouldn't know if it's Chuck. A few bumps and screeches. Whatever it is, it's totally gotten physical.

One man shouts about why something shouldn't make a difference, and the other says that he didn't marry some bathhouse slut. A thump, and then a real weak yelp. Seriously, hit a guy just right, any guy, and he'll whimper like a girl.

One man slaps the other. Palm against cheek, like, you can't mistake it. Fuck this shit. I switch on the lamp. Big-ass framed pictures on the walls kinda look like art—or, like, what grown-ups call art when they don't wanna look dumb. The furniture matches. I'm totally afraid to touch anything.

This must be Chuck! I check out a framed portrait of Wade, smiling like a total idiot, embracing another man. He's not smiling. Not at all. The picture stands inside a bookcase filled with no actual books. Chuck, tall and built and intense, like, reminds me of pictures in my history textbook, the ones of Vikings out to rape and pillage. Wade's gonna get his ass kicked! I need a weapon. The Tejano music sounds so goddamn happy. Seriously, Mexicans don't have that much to be happy about.

I scoot my way into what seems to be the kitchen. When I find the light switch, there's a butcher's knife lying beside the sink. Grabbing it, I'm ready to kick, like, some serious ass. I step deliberately down the hall, closer and closer to the bedroom at the end. Now I can hear the whole conversation.

One man, crying out, says in a pleading voice that he was lonely. Jesus, why do old people always complain about being lonely? Seriously, if all the lonely old people hooked up, it would solve so many problems. This doesn't sound like Wade. The voice is higher, more girly, but maybe that's just because he's upset. But what follows is, like, definitely Wade. He asks how many bitches have been in their bed. I assume bitches still means men. There's an awful silence, broken only by whimpering and the Tejano bullshit. There's another smack, but it's not palm against face. I've got my ear to the fucking door, my free hand inching toward the doorknob, like I totally have a plan once I'm inside. Please, one man begs—I can't tell who anymore—the bleeding won't stop.

That instant the door swings open, and I stumble into their bedroom. It was dumb, like, to put all my weight against it. I still have my knife. I'm still ready to kick ass. The bedroom looks sterile and scary, like a museum that isn't free.

This must be Chuck. He's definitely the man in the picture, the one not smiling. He's not smiling now, either. Someone, like, split his head open. His blond hair is drenched with blood—it's streaming down his face. Seriously, he's on his knees, and he's reaching out to me. Why? He doesn't—no, he's reaching to someone behind me.

Wade holds the golf club like I'm holding the knife. We're both ready for action. But the look on his face—I don't know if it's, like, meant for me or Chuck. His eyes are alive but totally cold, his nostrils flared, teeth bared. Finally, I notice blood dripping from the club, oozing down the shaft onto Wade's hands. Seriously. Five minutes, he says, still glaring at Chuck. I told you to give me five minutes.

Fuck my life.

Chuck reaches out again, this time definitely to me. He begs for help. I'm backing out through the doorway. I, like, totally want my mom. I know Wade will keep beating him. I'm still holding the knife like I plan to do something badass. I haul ass.

The knife clatters to the floor. I hear the golf club strike poor Chuck two or three times while I unbolt all four of the locks. Seriously, part of me is convinced when he's done with Chuck, he'll come after me. I'm, like, a witness, right? I had no idea gay guys beat up one another. I thought they were, like, too busy fucking. I tear open the door. That's when I hear Wade, still in the bedroom. Nikki! He sounds normal again, the guy who bullshits with me at Busy Burger—but I am not taking that chance.

I dash into the parking lot, totally freaked. Oh, fuck. Wade drove me here. I don't know this part of the city. Seriously, where the fuck am I? I'm sweating and shaking. I need to call someone... my phone! I rush over beneath the carport to his ride, and for real, like, there's my smartphone lying on the passenger seat. I press my hands and forehead against the window, like a father admiring his newborn in the nursery. It's, like, ringing. That's what the screen display means. The caller is stored in my contacts, so I see only his name: Dex.

 

So, I was helping my friend, Angelique, vomit into a plastic wastebasket when I met him. The party was last weekend. Seriously, I only knew half the kids there.

Me and Angelique were in a bedroom on the second story. I, like, knew it was a boy's room: a basketball team's schedule and roster were tacked on a wall, several posters of various players at the hoop. He had Star Wars sheets and pillowcases. I wanted to meet him. He was either too good to be true or too much of a loser for words.

She threw up again. In between episodes, she moaned. Like, why am I such a slut? Her head, like, rolled to the side, vomit spraying everywhere. I held her up. I don't even like sex, she said. I almost said maybe she was doing it wrong, but I heard a boy in the doorway.

He asked if he was interrupting anything. I said yes and thanked him. He laughed, and I totally got a little excited inside—but just inside. He asked if I needed help. Seriously, I'd been 30 seconds from letting her drown in her own vomit, but I knew sticking by Angelique's side would impress him. Loyalty means so much more to boys than girls.

We traded our names and all the basic, party-talk crap. We went to neighboring schools, so it was weird we'd never met. It totally bummed me out I might never see him again. Already, I was, like, starting to mourn.

His lips were so plump, I wanted to laugh. He had one hazel eye and one green eye. Seriously, he said they both changed color depending on what he wore. I really laughed this time, for real, and called him a liar. He smirked and insisted he take me out and prove it. Our heads edged closer together, our eyes closing and lips parting. We were seriously going to make out.

Angelique's head, resting on the wastebasket's rim, slipped off and hit the floor. Hell no, Elmo! I was so bummed, I wanted to, like, smack her. To be continued, Dex said. I asked if he wanted my number. I was so fucking pumped, I rode that wave all night.

 

So now, in the parking lot, I'm watching my smartphone click over to voicemail. Dex's name, like, disappears. I think I'm gonna cry. I'm totally going to sob.

There's a sharp stab in my hip and I glance down to see Psycho Toddler, like, poking at me with her broke-ass Barbie. You don't live here, she says. You're a stranger. She repeats it over and over, seriously, like it's some sort of spell. I'm backing up, like, deeper into the lot, resisting the urge to smack her because I totally couldn't handle jail. Her face is scrunched so tight, her mouth and nose and eyes all jam together. She keeps stabbing me with the doll. I totally tell her to stop, and she totally ignores me.

Wade is in his front yard, calling to me, before I realize he's outside. I start, like, backing up faster. A blue Tahoe honks at me then swerves around. Seriously, does he not see me? Wade is apologizing. Nikki, please. He says Chuck is totally fine now. He says he'll, like, take me home. The girl won't stop. You don't live here. You're a stranger.

An old black Buick screeches to a stop beside me. A heavy Mexican leans out of the driver's window, asks me if I'm okay. Seriously, he calls me baby. He shifts his gaze to the little girl and his voice gets totally gruff and scary. He's, like, speaking Spanish, I guess. Anyway, the girl gets spooked and runs off.

Now Wade is coming closer. He's limping. Maybe Chuck, like, got in a shot or two during his beating. I totally hope so. In English, the Mexican asks if this man is bothering me. I dash around the hood to the passenger side, throw open the door and hop in. I lock the door just as Wade reaches the car. Seriously, he pounds on the window, blood streaking from his hands. I hear him saying sorry, like, over and over again. The Tejano music has totally stopped. I don't know exactly when. The Mexican asks if I need a ride. I should totally be scared, but all I can see is Chuck, bleeding from his head and reaching. I tell the Mexican to, like, just fucking go.

His name's Fidel. We're almost to the freeway before he asks my name. Alison, I tell him. Alison, he repeats with what I'm totally sure is a smirk. Seriously, he doesn't believe me. He clears his throat, I guess to change the mood or whatever, and asks if that man, Wade, touched me. I finally turn to him and, like, scoff.

He switches on the radio. I'm hoping for some tunes, seriously, but it's an all-news station. He, like, totally doesn't do the satellite thing, either. Omaha this and Omaha that. Now 38 dead. I wanna turn that shit off. But, seriously, he'll think I'm a heartless bitch. And maybe I totally am. I think about Chuck reaching out, like, first for Wade—and then for me.

Instead, he talks over the announcer. He deals with a lot of young people in bad situations, he says. It's, like, his calling. Ever since his little sister was strangled to death by her boyfriend, during his senior in high school, he's totally made it his mission to save troubled—he hits that word hard—youth from terrible fates. Seriously, I guess I could've asked more about his sister, but then he totally would've told me, and I for sure don't wanna know.

He tells me to look in the floorboards. I noticed getting in that there were two shopping bags full of loose papers. Keeping my eye on him, more to convince myself that, like, I was worth harming than out of a fear of being harmed, I pulled out part of one stack. Missing posters, like you find stapled to telephone poles and bus stops. I flip through the stack, every sheet a totally new face, always smiling. Seriously, why do missing kids always know to smile before they disappear? That's cool, I tell him. That sadness and emptiness are totally eating at me, stronger and stronger the longer we drive.

You gotta tell me your address, he says, so I can take you home. You can go home, right? It's a safe place? I've, like, never thought of it in those terms, and I nod because I totally didn't wanna start thinking about it now. He'll enter the address in his GPS. I'm seriously gutted. I can't face my mom if she's there, and I can't face the house if she isn't.

You don't live here. You're a stranger.

I totally remember Dex's address. This could totally work out. He's already been calling me. Faking a yawn, totally stretching to make it look good, I tell Fidel that I'm gonna sleep, like, until we get to my house, really Dex's house. He switches off the radio. Omaha goes back where it came from. I'm not tired, for sure, but I shut my eyes. There's nothing to see but, like, streetlamps and billboards.

 

So, I wake up and pink and green neon totally blind me. It borders each window and forms the letters spelling out Busy Burger. Seriously, we were parked where I worked. Shit just got real. My armpits are damp and gross. For a second, I'm fucking clueless about who brought me here. That's when I see them.

Fidel's suit is two sizes too small. I can't believe his wife, like, let him out of the house. He has his back to me, chatting up that crone, Eileen. For real. She hands him a bag of food and cardboard drink carrier holding two cokes. She's laughing, she slaps his arm. God, she's a loser. It must totally suck to be old and still needing to flirt. Like, each rejection could be your last.

I'm freaked she'll glance outside and see me. I'm literally, seriously fucking shaking. It's way past midnight, and this is the only fast-food shitbox still open. Fidel's Buick is the only car in the lot. I, like, sink deeper into the passenger seat, my feet fighting those creepy MISSING posters for space. Inside the car, I can't hear a damn thing until Fidel opens the driver-side door. He's trying to be quiet. The dumbass must think I'm still asleep. The food must be for me, too, the trashy skank from the suburbs who was stranded in a seriously shitty neighborhood. I need a fucking telethon!

He eases behind the wheel. You must be hungry, he says. I smile, but it's totally fake. Not even fake-real, just fake-fake. He says he's sorry, he knows Busy Burger is kinda nasty. I wanna defend this hellhole, but it's probably just the urge to defend myself. Fuck it, the sooner we're back on the highway, the sooner we get home—well, you know, what this enchilada thinks is my home.

He hands me a cheeseburger and strawberry shake. I guess it's time to, like, say thank you. Fake-real, not fake-fake. I seriously don't even notice Eileen standing outside the driver-side door, at least not until her weak-ass knock on the window.

Fuck, fuck, fuck! There's no time to hide. Fidel rolls down the window. Won't get far without this, she says. She's smiling. The cow totally can't stop flirting. She's, like, clutching a leather wallet, hand held up for the dumbass to see. Her feed-sack breasts, like, push against the door. He thanks her. Of course, sir, I'm just glad I caught you before—

Shit, she spots me. This night is such a clusterfuck. No doubt, she doesn't expect to see one of her workers, like, riding shotgun with a fat Mexican in a jacked Buick. Fidel can't see me slowly shake my head, my signal for her to seriously shut the fuck up. Her face falls, and she, like, ages five years in two seconds. She, like, wishes us goodnight. Well, she wishes him goodnight.

We back out of the lot, and I seriously keep my eyes on Eileen. She's watching from the side entrance, pink and green neon making her look like a glo-stick at a fucking rave. This is totally, seriously, for sure beyond fucked. I'm already thinking of explanations for when I see her again.

Fidel holds his cheeseburger in one hand, steering with the other. The GPS tells us to exit the highway. Dex lives close. As we enter the neighborhood, fancy two-story homes lit up by streetlamps, fear explodes in my chest, my heart totally pounding. I'm, like, staring at every house on every block, seriously, like I don't know his address by heart.

Nice neighborhood, he says. This tamale doesn't even know my name. He doesn't have a fucking clue that part of me wonders how it feels to see your own face on a MISSING poster, and, like, you can't remember why anyone would look for you. We pull up in front of a house when GPS tells us we're there. Seriously, there's nothing left to say.

Dex's house is made of bricks, the windows tall and slender, like dominos. Lights glow in every one, and I remember Dex's room: second-story, last window on the left. The night we met, when I was babysitting that fucking lush, Angelique, it seriously exists in a far corner of my mind. Is that because it's precious or because it's, like, meant to be forgotten?

I push open the passenger door. He asks if I want him to wait and, like, make sure my ass makes it inside. My mouth is totally dry, and I'm suddenly aware of everything, every fucking star, every fucking blade of grass. My dad is a little racist, I tell him, my voice seriously shaking. He'd freak if he saw me get out of a Mexican's car. I totally say it nice, though. His face goes hard and spooky, like a mask. Racist, huh? Must run in the family, he says all hateful. What a douche!

His tires screech as he speeds away. For real, I thought he liked me at least a little bit. He was hating on me all the way from the city. Being shady about it, too. I don't get people. Wade's voice is, like, in my head, telling me to wake the fuck up and pay attention. My eyes are tired, and I want to rub them, but it would totally ruin my makeup.

I take a deep breath and, like, let it out slow. I knock on the door, softly, like I'm afraid of hurting it. Then I notice the doorbell. Even though heavy footsteps clomp down the stairs, I seriously press it anyway. Rich people have the most complicated doorbells.

Dex's chest is, like, heaving, and his cheeks are totally flushed. He seriously looks like the answer to any question ever asked. Hey, he says, and I can see it in the blankness of his face: he doesn't fucking remember me! I'm totally crushed, but I keep my shit together. I don't know what else to do. Then he blinks and swallows. Like, there I am. I've landed in front of him, like a spaceship.

Oh my God, Nikki, what happened to you? You look...

That's right. My hair, my totally black hair. I'm, like, the mass shooter's girlfriend. Actually, I'm no one's girlfriend. What're you doing here? I shake my head and can't look at him. Seriously. Look at me, he says. He totally says that to me. His face is, like, a bonfire, and I wanna stay warm. His mismatched eyes, those lips that for sure make me wanna laugh. What did you do to your hair, he asks. I hope my face isn't asking the question, too. You don't like it? I twirl in place, like I'm showing off a new dress. My stupid black hair fans out and slaps him in the face. Seriously, he laughs. You can stop now, he says. We smile at each other, and the whole night seems, like, totally worth it. I might never go home.

I totally don't hear her slipping down the stairs. What the hell? I hear her screeching voice from above. It's Angelique. She's upright. Fucking bitch. No wonder she hasn't been returning my texts.

She stands still behind Dex, her hand on his shoulder like he's her child. Her face is, like, hard and still like a frozen pond. Dex never looks back at her. I totally think about the Crossfit asshole and his girlfriend from Busy Burger. We're just watching some DVDs, he says. Wanna hang out?

Angelique grabs his arm and hisses his name. I'm invisible and unavoidable, like, at once. I tell them I have to go. I don't have a car, but I'm already backing off the porch. I almost fall on my ass. You don't live here. You're a stranger.

Right then, sprinkler heads pop out of the lawn and begin to fucking spit, long and fast. I'm, like, soaked within seconds. Dex tries to help, but my bitch ex-friend grabs his arm. I totally should've let her drown in her own vomit. He calls after me as I sprint across the grass.

The neighbors' porch lights are flashing on, and I realize how seriously late it is. What the hell was I thinking? Wade was right. I don't pay attention.

Ten bucks says Dex fucks her. Ten bucks says I cry like a baby.

Fuck my life.

The night feels cools against my skin and wet clothes. My feet throb from running in sandals.

I slow down. There's a serious knot in my chest. I don't know where I am. It's totally a neighborhood just like Dex's—same nice houses, same starry sky. My phone is for sure gone by now.

I'm walking downhill on some street when, like, headlights appear at the hilltop. They're fucking spooky. It's a car, and it's totally slowing down. I recognize its light green body, the grill seriously gunked with dead crickets and flies and beetles. The Pontiac almost comes to a stop as it pulls up beside me.

Eileen asks if I'm all right. Baby, she says, you're soaking wet, and it's late. I, like, don't look at her. If that fossil figures out I've been crying, she'll wanna know why, and right now? I totally might tell her. C'mon, she says, get in the car. I tell her I can't go home and seriously pick up my pace, even though I still feel that knot in my chest, that sad and empty feeling that never fucking disappears completely. We're not going to your house, she says, we're going back to work.

While she drives us back to Busy Burger, I wait and wait for her to bring up Fidel. She must, like, think I'm a total slut or maybe even a real-life hooker. Instead, she tells me the graveyard cashier flaked. Eileen rolls her eyes. Her feed-sack breasts press against the steering wheel. I dry my hair with a SpongeBob beach towel she keeps in the back seat. I swallow, my damp hair tumbling down my back. Instead of a pity fuck, I'm getting a pity ride. I thought she was gonna ask me to sub for the flake, and I guess I'm disappointed she didn't.

You hear what happened in Omaha, she asks. That's in Nebraska, I answer, and I'm totally proud of myself. We're getting into town, the strip malls all dark despite the halos of light from the streetlamps. Fucking creepshow. Hell of a thing, she says. You kids think this is normal, but I promise it's not. I'm totally, seriously, for sure tired of hearing about Omaha. I got tired of hearing about Orlando and Lafyette and Sandy Hook and Dallas and Blacksburg and San Bernadino and Columbine and—

Our sudden stop in front of the restaurant jolts me. Pink and green neon reflect off the hood of Eileen's car. Seriously, what am I supposed to do while Eileen works, while all the alkies and dopeheads and losers order their burgers and shakes? Welcome to Busy Burger, now fuck off!

Did he touch you? She's smiling at me, but it's a different kind of smile. I totally wanna trust it. I think of Chuck bleeding from his head, reaching for me. Shit's been real the whole fucking night. I think of Dex flinching as my stupid black hair slaps his face. I slowly shake my head. It's not true. At least, tonight it's not true.

Eileen guides me through the dining room, her totally wrinkled fingers clutching my arm. A ring with a slim band and a small, clear stone catches my eye. Seriously, I thought she was divorced. Her husband, like, beat her. She sent out a group email. She shuffles away, calling out for coffee, leaving me in a corner booth. It's for one of the sketchy customers, I guess. Instead, she returns and places a steaming cup on the grimy table. My hands slip around it, like, seriously eager for warmth. She asks if Mom lets me drink coffee. When I shake my head, she totally winks at me and returns to the register. I guess she's being nice to me because I'm a total joke, but right now, that's fine by me.

I gaze out at customers, some of them washed in pink and green neon from the windows, making them look like video-game characters. Attention, Wade said I didn't pay attention. Fuck him, I'm totally paying attention now. My gaze leaps from, like, one customer to the next, and I'm deciding, deciding...

My attention zips to a couple stomping through the glass entrance. Well, the chick is stomping. Her light blue clogs seriously pound the linoleum. Black nylon stretches over her scrawny arms and legs. Her fingernails and toenails are fucking black, too. Jesus fuck. Corduroy short-shorts, like, ride up her ass. On her T-shirt, a flurry of small, pink hearts fall behind the words Kiss Me Goodbye, the phrase distended beneath her bobbing breasts.

The guy trailing her is a total afterthought. His dark green letterman jacket seems to be wearing him. He's gotta be at least thirty. Seriously, I should be taking notes. I'd fucking rub Wade's nose in them until the ink, like, smudged and shit.

In front of Eileen's register, she orders for both of them. While she barks her order, the man sneaks a look, across the dining room, at me. I'm totally not going to break my stare. The woman keeps changing her mind and bitches at Eileen when she can't keep up. Marching into the dining room, the stupid bitch doesn't even check to, like, make sure the guy hasn't bailed.

With her black fingernail, she points at a booth in a corner of the room. We're separated by several tables. The man makes a last glance, seriously asking for help, totally desperate just to be seen.

I keep staring. I pay attention. I make up my mind.

My black hair is fierce. When Eileen asks if I want a refill, I whisper, Ten bucks says she beats him. Eileen, like, totally laughs and slaps my arm. Oh, gross, I think we're friends now. She pretends her hand is a gun, one finger pointed at me and her thumb raised. It's like we've worked together for years, and this is our shtick. She winks and fires. That bitch seriously shoots me in the face.

 

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