Not Like the Other People in the Car
“Dude, you’re a pussy,” she said.
Wayne kept making pizza boxes. He hated working with Cara. She ate more pepperoni than she sliced and she always called him names, some variation on vagina. They were the same age and took classes together at the same shitty college but Cara lived on campus and Wayne commuted. Cara liked to smoke dope and steal other girls’ boyfriends. She bragged about both. She was also fat. Wayne didn’t care if a person was fat but it seemed like Cara should acknowledge she had sloppy tits and plumber’s crack when she bent to the cans of sauce in the stockroom if she was going to draw attention to everyone else’s flaws.
Wayne stopped folding cardboard and said, “Why am I a pussy?”
“Because you are a pussy,” Cara said. “There doesn’t have to be a reason for a dude like you to be a pussy. You just are. It’s a Zen thing.”
Wayne walked to the register and swapped out his twenties for smaller bills to make change on his next round of deliveries. The guy out front, the owner, kept on, tossing dough, stocking the cooler. Wayne walked back to the oven.
He knew not to talk to Cara or to engage her but silence, even a couple minutes, would allow Cara to twist her mind to some new attack.
He said, “What do you know about Zen?”
She said, “Enough.”
“What makes you such an expert?”
“I didn’t say I was an expert.”
“Exactly,” Wayne said.
Wayne had read a book on Buddhism for a class. He couldn’t remember if he finished it. He’d tried to read the Koran but ended up skimming.
Cara said, “I know you’re a pussy, that’s what I know about Zen.”
Wayne said, “Why are you so awful?”
Cara said, “Don’t be such a cunt,” and pressed her middle finger to her nose.
Maybe Wayne was a pussy. Delivering pizzas made him feel like one. He ducked eye contact and looked over people’s shoulders when they answered their doors. He counted back their change and never waited for a tip because it embarrassed him even though he needed tips, even though he made minimum wage, even though most people said, “Hey,” and called him back and handed him a buck.
He pulled up at an apartment complex, six scrubby units. He climbed out and banged the front door. A woman buzzed and asked who was there.
Wayne said, “Pizza.”
She said, “Leave it.”
She had an Ethel Merman voice, a black-and-white movie voice.
Wayne said, “I can’t leave it.”
She said, “Sure you can. I paid on a card.”
“You have to sign the slip.”
“Sorry,” Wayne said.
She came down in sweatpants and a man’s t-shirt. No make-up. Knotty blonde hair. She was skinny as a meth-head and smoking a menthol cigarette.
She said, “I guess someone expects a tip.”
Wayne said, “I’m fine,” and looked down.
“Kidding,” she said and handed Wayne the signed receipt and two dollars.
Wayne said, “Thanks.” He said, “You should be in pictures.”
She said, “Now you’re just being an asshole.”
Wayne drove a Ford Focus. He’d bought the car for eight hundred dollars, its exact Blue Book value, from his dad. The car needed a new battery. On cold mornings Wayne coasted downhill and popped the clutch. It was embarrassing, like living at home after high school, like buying a car from when you wanted to buy a motorcycle because your dad said no. Wayne’s dad said, “Nothing on two wheels.” Then he said, “Not in my house,” which is what he’d been saying since Wayne was five. “Piss the bed? Not in my house.” Wayne could have bought a Honda 750 and saved fifty dollars in gas a week.
It was Friday night. All of Wayne’s friends were away at college, living in dorm rooms or apartments, drinking canned beer and hanging out with girls who wanted to be filmed while they fingered themselves. It was horribly depressing. Wayne had never been on a real college campus, one where students didn’t have to find parking spots.
He pulled up at a stoplight by Luigi’s and waited for the green arrow. A couple more deliveries and he’d circle back. He had sixty bucks in tips, decent money, except for tuition, except for car repairs.
Wayne checked his cell for texts. There was one from Cara. It said: pussyfuck. None of his old pals from high school kept in touch. They were busy, he guessed. It was tough getting laid and doing beer bongs like in the movies.
Tomorrow, there’d be church. That was the rule: you live at home, you go to church. His mother loved church but it made her nervous. Wayne loved his mother but she made him nervous. She tweaked and flashed. She had habits requiring repetition. On Sunday she went to church twice. On Wednesday she went once. Before the services she palmed a quarter in each hand while walking the house in direct lines, tracing the outskirts of rooms, as his father slowly pulled on a bad tie. His dad hated ties. He had enormous hands and drove a dump truck. He hadn’t hit Wayne since the summer after high school but there had been blood on Wayne’s face and on his father’s shirt and it had been embarrassing and painful for them both. Wayne had a psychology class this semester. He thought his mom might have OCD, some obsessive disorder. First, church. But also movies. She watched a new release every night and paced the hall when she couldn’t make it to RedBox for a rental. Everything made her pace. Or walk squares. Or triangles. To be near her was to watch carpet turn to lint.
Wayne stopped at the next light when it was still yellow, putting him behind schedule. A SUV pulled up, music blaring. The bass rocked Wayne’s car. He hoped it was rich girls who wanted to get his attention but it sounded like dudes, like guys in hoodies and gold chains. It sounded like guns. Wayne liked acoustic guitars. He liked music that no one else listened to. He liked Benny Calhoun. He liked the song “I Used To Paint Houses Before I Tended Bar” and he knew all the words, even the different choruses. The light turned and he stepped on the gas.
Wayne’s Ford didn’t have a stereo—no CD player, no radio, nothing. During the week he jammed his iPod but it was the weekend and the cops were out looking for drunk drivers and Wayne had convinced himself he could be pulled over and arrested for wearing headphones. This was the kind of paranoid feeling you get from living at home with religious parents. Wayne hadn’t smoked weed in almost a year. He used to love smoking weed. Cara smoked weed while she worked. She flicked ashes on the pizzas. She said, “The only people who don’t smoke weed are twats.”
Wayne delivered two pizzas. He got a single and a five. A five was great. Once a month some drunk would throw a twenty in a big-shot way but a five was still the goal.
He drove back to Luigi’s, blowing through yellow lights.
He parked in the handicapped space and hustled inside.
Mark, who owned Luigi’s, who was not Italian, who was probably Irish or English or originally from Ohio, said, “Don’t fucking park in the handicap space. Park in front of the building. It’s closer and it’s being respectful.” Mark talked like this. Fucking this, fucking that. He wasn’t mad. He was happy. Manic. He wore wife-beater t-shirts and flowered shorts. Sometimes he wore dress shoes without socks.
Wayne said, “How many orders?”
Mark said, “It’s slowing down. It’ll pick up again in an hour. Any hot bitches?”
Wayne said, “Not yet.”
Cara yelled from the back, “Any hot dudes?”
Wayne ignored her.
Mark said, “Your fucking mom called. Twice. That’s one kooky bitch.”
“Sorry about that,” Wayne said.
Mark said, “Not your fault your parents are fucking kooks. Trust me. My mom is probably up in heaven, making up a reason to hit me with a spoon.” He said, “Seriously, no hot bitches?”
Wayne said, “I’ll report back when I see anything.”
Mark was always concerned with the quality of female that his pizzas reached and, occasionally, if the lady placing the order sounded hot, he would make the delivery himself. Wayne didn’t mind this. Mark still gave Wayne the tip and it was a nice break to be in the store, drinking free Mountain Dews, up front and away from Cara.
Mark said, “I need ten minutes out back. Can you do the dough? If I leave it, it gets too hard to toss.”
Mark was a cokehead. A guy in Wayne’s psych class sold Mark the blow. Wayne tried to pretend it wasn’t a big deal. He figured a buzz was a buzz, drugs were drugs, unless coke was crazy like in the movies, guys shooting guns, women running around topless. Wayne wanted to try it, just a line or two or however many it took to get high, but he always lacked the money and Mark never did it in front of him anyway.
Cara had said, one time, “He’s not gonna let you do any of his blow if you keep acting like a bitch,” then she flicked her joint over a pizza before she ovened it.
Now Wayne walked over and reached for the bowl of dough.
Mark said, “Seriously. It’s the restaurant business. Wash your fucking hands.”
Mark pulled up his flowered shorts and tucked in his wife-beater t-shirt. He wore running shoes today because it was the weekend and he worked doubles, hanging on his feet for fifteen or more hours at a time. Mark was forty but looked thirty, like cocaine was packed with vitamins. He had a goatee but he hated to shave so most days it blurred in with the rest of his hairy face.
Wayne said, “I washed my hands.”
Mark said, “Like an hour ago. You’re gonna give everyone VD or some shit.”
Wayne pulled out with three deliveries. One of the orders, six large pizzas, he hoped would land him a monster tip. He hoped the customer would be drunk and high and a woman with huge tits. He had these fantasy scenarios. There’d be a silk robe and a lot of dirty talk. He’d get blown like in a porno. He’d eat pussy and be an expert. He’d tell Mark and Mark would promote him to assistant manager. They’d do a bunch of blow to celebrate.
But, realistically, six pizzas sounded like an eighth-grade sleepover, spoiled kids demanding food from rich parents, swapping their psych meds for fun.
He headed east on Route 30. It was eleven o’clock. He’d being doing this until at least three, maybe four. When the bars closed, the drunks got hungry. If the drunks got hungry, Mark stayed open. If Mark stayed open, Wayne delivered. Church tomorrow morning would be more depressing than usual. Wayne would be too tired to shower and he’d stink like sauce, like pizza grease and oregano. He’d fall asleep and his mom would pull his arm hair to wake him up and his dad, after the service, would say, “Goddamn it, Wayne,” and Wayne would look away.
He turned into The Village, a sprawling apartment complex in Irwin. There were a dozen units, all dirty brick with warped siding. The renters were HUD or on relief. Wayne found 3D and rang the bell. The front door, along one edge, had been covered in NASCAR stickers, mostly drivers’ numbers, a few emblems for different brands of oil, and one cartoon character pissing on Richard Petty’s head.
An old man in a bathrobe opened the door. Wiry gray hairs grew out from his chest like they were being pulled by magnets. His ears were too big. The body of the robe was red but the sleeves were green and a green belt looped around the waist and finished in a sloppy bow like a Christmas decoration.
Wayne said, “Fifteen…” and pulled the receipt closer to make the numbers.
Before he could name the change, the man said, “Here,” and handed over a twenty and took the pizza box.
Wayne started for his wad of singles.
The man waved him off.
Wayne said, “Are you sure?”
He said, “Keep it. I’m drunk.”
Wayne said, “Thanks,” but the man had already closed the door.
The next delivery was a stiff. A young fat guy—shirtless and wearing gym shorts and a Pirates cap turned backwards—paid with a wad of singles and a jar of change, counting it down to the exact penny.
Wayne said, “Perfect, thanks.”
The dude shrugged and said, “Rough week.”
Wayne said, “No problem.”
The dude said, “I’ll get you next time, bro.”
Wayne didn’t mind being stiffed except he did, except he knew. He sometimes stood in front of a customer with green tattoos and gray hair growing from odd places and thought he should be the one giving the tip.
The last house was a mansion, two stories of brown brick and stone. Wayne guessed four or five bedrooms and three or four bathrooms. Lights on motion detectors clicked on as he rolled up. The porch wrapped around to the backyard. He counted nine windows on the front of the house.
From the sideyard, a kid on a bicycle, maybe ten or eleven or twelve years old, raced through the grass then skidded across the driveway towards Wayne’s car. The kid stopped by rocking forward on his front wheel. Then he leaned back and extended his palms. Wayne popped the Focus in park and rolled down his window.
The kid, who was shirtless, who had skinny-kid muscles, who was shoeless and dressed in cut-off sweatpants, said, “You delivering here?”
Wayne said, “Yeah.”
The kid said, “That house is packed with hot bitches.”
Wayne said, “Okay?”
“Gimme five bucks.”
“For I just gave you a hot tip.”
“I was already here. I was pulling up.”
The kid said, “For I prepped you. Now you know hot bitches are inside.”
Wayne, being a sport, said, “I’ll give you a dollar.”
“Deal,” the kid said and reached into the window and took the buck.
Wayne said, “Thanks for the info.”
The kid said, “Hot bitches for life,” and pedaled away.
Wayne knew this plan, these people. They tipped well but with production: this is for you, a folded bill, a handshake. Inside, the walls would be painted in deep colors—probably burgundy and hunter green—and family pictures taken at a professional studio would be tastefully displayed. The carpet would feel like a fucking mattress.
Wayne wanted enough money to transfer to main campus. He wanted to start smoking weed again and be liked. Not popular, if you could even be popular in college, but liked. He wanted to be serious about his studies, to open a textbook and be able to read the words and not nod into the pages because he’d worked a twelve-hour shift. He wanted to have fun, to be a fun guy, and not someone who delivered pizzas to McMansions, like that was all of him, the broke dude in the broke car who needed tipped.
He parked and climbed out, carrying an obnoxiously large stack of pizzas. He stepped onto the porch and rang the bell. The door opened. Wayne looked away like always, hot bitches or not. He reached for the receipt, which had been taped to the top box, and squinted to see the total.
He said, “Fifty-six dollars even.”
Wayne tried to pull the receipt from the box. Six pizzas was a lot to hold with one hand. You had to use your chin.
She said, “One sec.”
He could barely see the woman over the stack of pies. She was short and digging through her purse. He adjusted everything. The cardboard boxes were thin, probably the cheapest you could buy, and his hands started to burn.
“I’m sorry,” she said, and laughed. “I have cash in here somewhere.”
She looked up and smiled. White teeth. Nice tan. She had long brown hair, perfectly straight, and she was hot, one-glance hot, Wayne knew it instantly. She tucked her hair behind her ear and went back to her purse.
Wayne said, “Take your time,” and adjusted the boxes again.
There was a second of gratitude, which is what Wayne felt when he lucked into a good-looking customer, then the realization that he knew this woman, a girl really, this person his age. Her name was Megan and she’d been his lab partner in Chemistry back in high school.
Wayne thought: oh shit.
Being seen by your peers was the worst, especially when your peers were successful, which he was sure Megan was. She’d probably flown in from Harvard or Brown or anywhere else that didn’t offer two-year associate degrees.
A few months ago Wayne had delivered to an auto-body shop. The parking lot mixed gravel and mud with giant potholes. The outside light barely lit anything. Inside, he recognized a couple guys from high school, guys who took shop classes and still failed out, dudes who punched random people in the arms until bruises appeared and burned each other with cigarettes for fun. Wayne hadn’t seen them in two years or more and he hoped they had forgotten him but they knew. Their greasy faces lit up with recognition. One said, “You’re the science geek,” and the other said, “How’s all that science working out for you?” and laughed. They were drunk, drinking canned beer. They wore boots and coveralls and stood around a junky car on blocks. Wayne handed over the pizza. They set the box on the hood of the car. No one offered to pay. Wayne waited. One opened the box and shined a work light on the pizza. The other pulled out a slice with one hand, tugging but not losing the cheese, a wrench dangling from his other hand. Wayne backed out of the garage, happy there were no more words, happy there were no punches in the arm or cigarette burns.
Now, months later, he stood in front of Megan.
He had been afraid to approach her before, on the level playing field of high school, and now he wished she was a mechanic, a man who might treat Wayne’s arm like an ashtray. Getting your ass kicked was nothing compared to getting humiliated. Wayne learned that from his dad who delivered both.
Megan said, “Hey.”
Wayne, pretending she was not about to recognize him, said, “Take your time.”
She said, “No, seriously, hey.”
Wayne said, “Okay,” not knowing anything else to hide behind.
He shuffled his feet. He was thankful he didn’t wear a uniform, that Luigi’s was a local place and the cokehead who ran it was a good guy who didn’t expect his employees to wear name tags and polo shirts that looked like the Italian flag.
Megan extended the money and said, “I know you.”
Wayne said, “Yeah, I remember you. Rita. From Bio, right?”
Megan said, “Megan from Chemistry. We were lab partners.”
Wayne said, “Right, yeah,” and he knew he sounded like a fake.
She said, “You know, I always tell that joke you told me.”
Wayne scrunched up his face like he couldn’t remember the joke but he remembered the joke and where he’d told it and how stoned he was and how he’d hoped to be charming even though he knew it was impossible to be charming during sixth period Chemistry class when you were stoned.
She said, “You know—I hope to die in my sleep, quietly and peacefully, like my grandfather, and not screaming like the other people in the car.”
Wayne said, “That’s a good one.”
“It is,” she said and laughed.
Wayne, following his habit, looked down. Megan was shoeless, her toenails painted black, a couple toes covered in jewelry. She was so fucking beautiful, he wanted to look up, to look away, to find a new place to look, neither up nor down. Toes, in jewelry. He wanted to suck them but not creepy, just sincere. No wonder he pretended to lose her name. Her feet were better looking than his face.
He said, “You have jewelry on your toes.”
She said, “They’re toe rings.”
She wiggled her toes.
Wayne said, “I didn’t know you could do that.”
Megan said, “People get their faces tattooed. I think toe rings are pretty safe.” She said, “Do you want me to take a couple of those pizzas?”
“I can set them somewhere,” Wayne said.
Inside was huge but empty. The walls were bare, painted white or maybe just primered. The floors were hardwood but without carpet or rugs. Past the barren living room and into the dining room, the usual spot for a table had never been filled. It was like a place that needed to become a place.
He said, “Did you get robbed?”
Megan said, “Not my place. It’s Sherrie Gifford’s. Do you remember her? She has blond hair and green eyes. Used to date Mark Stinson. Her gigantic boobs are sort of her calling card.”
“I don’t think I remember her,” Wayne said and his dick chubbed. He said, “Do you want me to put these pizzas somewhere?”
“The floor is fine,” she said and pointed with one of her bejeweled toes.
Wayne set down the pizzas, making sure the boxes stayed in a neat stack. He stood back up with burning hands. He adjusted his shirt so it covered his dick.
What he wanted to say was: I’m not a loser, I do more than deliver pizzas, I hope to be a pharmacist or an engineer or a scientist, I’m making all As, I used to love you in high school, I still do.
What he said was, “So, are you home for the weekend?”
She said, “Just home-home. I still live with my mom.”
“Me too,” he said and shrugged like they’d both crawled from the same dismal spot, a hole crowded with parents. “With my mom and dad both.”
“Not really. Where do you go to school?”
He hoped she attended the community college. The community college was the only place worse than a branch campus, especially Allegheny East where the VP had recently knocked up a student and his assistant had been arrested for drunk driving. If he could be better than her in some small way, she could consider him as something else.
She said, “Still high school, silly.”
“I thought you were in my grade.”
“I was in all AP classes, a sophomore.”
“Two years behind me?”
She put her hand on him and shoved, smiling.
Wayne stumbled back and said, “You’re strong too.”
She said, “I have muscles.”
Wayne stopped to consider love, to consider touch. His parents meant something—his mom more than his dad—but love and their house sort of twisted until it was more house than anything, people eating meals, sharing the same bar of soap, not touching, not shoving to be close. Hello, goodbye, you’re awful, do better.
Megan said, “Two years isn’t much.”
Wayne hadn’t been laid since high school and the last time had been in a field and he’d lost his hard-on. He hadn’t been kissed since last June when he went to a party at the Shantytown Firehall. Some local chick, there to play Bingo, followed him outside to drink one of his beers and before he could hand her a can, she flicked her cigarette to the pavement and attacked him with her lips.
Megan said, “It’s really good to see you, like really good.”
He said, “Yeah, you too.”
His breath stank.
He wished he was chewing gum.
He said, “How’s high school?”
“I’m almost done,” she said. “It feels like I’m done at least. I have more study halls than classes. I wish I wasn’t there.”
She reached down and lifted the lid on the top pizza box. She reached inside and tugged out a slice and lifted it with both hands to her mouth and bit.
She said, “I’m sorry. I haven’t eaten all day. I’m starved. Have a piece. Can you have a piece? You probably hate pizza, huh?” She took another bite and said, “Why didn’t you go to college? I thought you were really smart. You seemed, like, super-smart. I was always sort of jealous of you.”
“Really?” he said. “I’m smart but stupid too. I’m one of those dudes.”
She said, “You were smart-smart, like Ivy League,” and kept eating.
Wayne said, “I go to AE.”
“You didn’t want to go to main campus?”
He said, “No.” He said, “Yeah.” He said, “I don’t know.”
He wanted to say, “I’m broke.”
He wanted to say, “My family is fucked up.”
He wanted to say, “It’s a hundred bucks to apply to an Ivy League school.”
And, “The pizza shop is cool.”
And, “They should let me do cocaine.”
He wanted to say, “Do you do cocaine?” and, “Do you still get stoned?” and, “I wish I still got stoned,” and, “Am I ugly?” and, “I feel ugly,” and, “You’re so fucking hot,” and, “Let me suck your toes,” and, “I love you,” and, “I love you.”
She said, “AE is cool. I know some girls who party there on weekends.”
Wayne said, “Yeah, it’s fun,” but he’d never partied there.
Megan said, “Branch campus,” as if that explained everything.
Wayne said, “I just figured—live at home, save some money.” He said, “Stress is weird for me,” which was true but not something he wanted to say. He said, “I’m probably transferring next semester,” which was a lie.
She said, “You live in Circleville, right? Any chance you could give me a ride?”
He said, “Yeah, sure, absolutely.” Then, “Where is everyone?”
“They’re downstairs. I guess Sherrie’s parents still have their old house or they’re not ready to move in here yet. They’re probably waiting to meet with an interior designer or something. Look at this place. It’s like TV. Like Hollywood.”
Wayne said, “What’s her dad do?”
Megan said, “Rich people are gross.”
“So no one is allowed upstairs?”
“No one’s even allowed in the house, I think. Sherrie had the garage door opener. Now everyone’s stoned in the basement, waiting for pizza.”
Megan opened the pizza box and dropped the crust back in. She stared at the pie for a minute, moved the box to the floor, and checked the next pizza for toppings.
She said, “Isn’t there a sausage-mushroom in here?”
Wayne said, “Yeah, I don’t know.” He said, “When did you start getting stoned?”
Megan said, “Like five years ago.” She pulled out a slice covered in ground meat and ham. She said, “I love pizza grease,” and bit into the slice.
Wayne could have sat there and watched her eat pizza. He could have married her or made love to her or held her hand or decorated her toes. Gotten a handjob. Given something back. Done nothing at all.
He said, “So when do you need that ride?”
She said, “Now, I guess. Are you going that way?”
He said, “I have to go back to the pizza shop and pick up the next orders.”
He tried to think of how he could do this without involving his boss. If Mark spotted Megan, he’d ask a bunch of gross questions and ruin it.
Megan said, “I’ll just yell downstairs and we can bail.”
Wayne said, “I have deliveries still, like for hours.”
She said, “That’s cool.”
He said, “I could swing back for you,” but he didn’t know when. The next order could be west towards North Versailles or north to Plum or Churchill.
Megan turned and Wayne, who had convinced himself that they were alone here, almost on a date, heard it too: feet on the stairs. The door opened and a girl who had huge boobs, presumably Sherrie, emerged from the basement. She was fat but possessed the confidence that rich fat people possessed. She strutted. She adjusted her tits.
“I’m so stoned, I could die,” she said. “There you are, my little pizzas,” she said and picked up the boxes like they were a small poodle. She started back towards the stairs and said, “Turn the lights off, you two. No one is supposed to be here.”
The pizzas walked off like they were going to college, like they were going to the prom, like they were special, the precious pizzas.
Wayne said, “What the fuck was that?”
Megan said, “Huge boobs are a curse.”
Megan could hang. Her mom worked as a waitress and wouldn’t be home until at least three or four or not at all if she slept at her boyfriend’s house. Wayne figured he didn’t have to be home either, not for a while, not as long as he had pizzas to deliver. Megan worked part-time at an ice cream place. Even when it was busy, it was boring and you were stuck behind the counter. No travel. No knocking on doors. No weird people in their underwear, drinking cheap beer. She thought this would be fun.
So they delivered, together.
Megan ducked down in the backseat when Wayne picked up pizzas from Luigi’s. Inside, Mark had moved into a full-on but still-productive cocaine explosion, tossing pizzas, dropping pizzas, inventing pizzas with gross combinations of toppings.
Wayne said, “You okay?”
Mark said, “Anchovy pickle.”
Cara sat in the back, on a stack of sauce cans, eating pepperoni slices like potato chips, chugging Mt. Dew from a one-liter bottle.
She said, “There’s the pussy.”
Wayne smiled and said, “I am the pussy.”
She said, “The pussy returns.”
“Okay, twat, be funny. Absorb the abuse. It won’t work.”
“I am a twat.”
“You are the twat, not a twat, the twat, the memorial twat.”
Wayne loved it and answered to it and started a song about it, singing, “Here comes the twat-man, he’s a hole without a head,” when he walked to the oven.
She said, “You don’t get to call yourself a twat. I call you a twat.”
Wayne said, “I am the pussy to end all pussies. I just am.”
“Bullshit,” she said. “Stop that.”
“Zen pussy,” he said and walked out.
Megan was impressed that Wayne didn’t need directions or GPS, that he could just find the houses. Wayne knew this was the least impressive thing he had ever done but it felt right. Megan pulled out a joint. Wayne acted like he still smoked. When the THC hit his brain, he could barely contain his joy. He reached for Megan’s hand and she leaned into him, over the stick shift, so her head was against his chest.
It was twelve, then one, then two.
Megan didn’t know where she was going to college. She’d been considering the Peace Corps or Teach America, one of those places that treated you like a slave but gave you tuition. It was all so expensive. Her dad was nowhere to be found and her mom barely made enough to pay the bills. Maybe Megan would waitress. Or deliver pizzas. Or bartend. Or just stay in bed. College looked like bullshit, like a pyramid scheme.
She said, “I like delivering pizzas. This is the shit.”
Wayne said, “It’s usually not this much fun.”
Megan said, “Is being poor different once you get out of high school?”
Wayne said, “I don’t know,” because he didn’t know, because he didn’t think of himself as poor because poor was not something you escaped from.
Megan said, “I hate living in an apartment. When I was in elementary school, my mom would never let me have friends over because she was embarrassed.”
Wayne said, “My mom is crazy. I think she has OCD or something.”
Megan said, “Everyone has OCD now. It’s the body’s way of adjusting to its environment without collapsing.”
Wayne said, “I don’t know what that means but it sounds smart.”
Megan said, “I think I read it somewhere but I might have made it up. I might actually be thinking of autism or one of those.”
“We should get autism.”
“We totally should.”
Wayne made his voice mechanical and said, “I am Wayne. You are someone. I cannot read the expressions on your face.”
Megan said, “I don’t think autistic people speak like robots,” and laughed.
They dropped their last pizza at three in the morning then cashed out at the store. Mark counted the money in the back with the door locked when he was that high. Wayne separated his tips and left the rest in a plastic bag outside the office door.
He knocked and said, “You okay in there?”
“Never better,” Mark said.
Cara, sweeping up the kitchen, said, “Going home to suck your own dick?”
“Same as every night,” Wayne said. “What about you?”
Wayne stopped in the doorway and leaned. He wanted to grab a couple slices for Megan but he couldn’t be near Cara, not even to step past her. Wayne looked at the slices, still spinning under a lamp. Cara stopped sweeping. She pulled the broom close to her chest and held it with both hands. She was sweaty with the heat of the oven but she looked sad, not mean, like she’d been punched and felt it.
Wayne started to turn.
Cara said, “Hey.”
Wayne turned back.
He said, “You okay?”
She said, “I’m just joking with you when I call you names. I thought you knew that. You know that, right?”
“Being mean is just the way I flirt.”
Wayne cringed on the inside, maybe on the outside too. He nodded but did not speak. Cara looked at the oven, the heat still coming out like it was cooking the air. Inside her body, where her heart was supposed to be, stood a small witch with a broom, sweeping blood into her veins. Her brain was bat wings, flapping.
Wayne said, “I left the car running.”
Cara said, “Mark always tries to fuck me, not like aggressive, but like with the way he looks at me and stuff.”
“I really did leave the car running,” Wayne said, and moved but only slightly.
Cara said, “Oh.”
Wayne said, “Yeah,” and pointed with his shoulder towards the front parking lot.
Cara said, “It’s not a big deal.”
Wayne said, “It is, it is,” but it wasn’t.
He said, “We’ll talk.”
He said, “I have to go.”
He said, “Soon.”
He said, “You want a ride?” and regretted it.
She said, “I don’t know, maybe.”
He said, “Shit, I can’t. I completely forgot.”
He said, “The car’s running.”
He said, “I have to go.”
Megan wanted to go to Twin Lakes, even though it was cold, to watch the moon, to smoke more pot. They drove there, Megan holding Wayne’s hands as he shifted.
At the lake they passed the pavilion and found the boardwalk and walked along the planks and threw rocks in the water. They sat and talked. Then they walked back and stood at the edge of the lake. Fishes dove and splashed. Dry leaves moved with the wind. Wayne thought he heard deer. It was very dark. Small waves splashed against the rocks.
Wayne said, “Should we be here?”
A sign said the park closed at dusk.
Wayne said, “Cops.”
Megan said, “Oh come on.”
Wayne said, “Seriously.”
Megan was under-aged. Seventeen was almost eighteen but it was still illegal to do whatever it was they were doing, which was nothing, holding hands, falling in love, smelling like pizza grease, not falling in love. Wayne always circled back to his failures. Not falling in love. Megan put her hands on the railing. Wayne put his hand on one of hers and she took it. Pennsylvania had weird laws. There were curfews. Wayne couldn’t explain any of this to an officer or to his dad and his dad’s meaty hands or to his mom and her crazy carpet walking or the god they would want him to answer to.
Megan said, “You could kiss me.”
Wayne said, “I could,” and closed his eyes and waited to be kissed.
Then the sun was almost up.
The clouds were gray and mirrored on the surface of the lake.
They went back to Megan’s empty apartment. The mom had slept over her boyfriend’s house. Megan was not bothered by this. How cool, Wayne thought. He tried to imagine his mom sleeping somewhere else, divorced from his dad, getting laid. Megan’s apartment was tiny and littered with take-out boxes and magazines. The living room had a couch but no chair or loveseat. A few paintings from Target hung on the walls but no Jesus stuff, no photos of Bible verses in cursive writing. They stepped over a hand-held vacuum cleaner and walked to Megan’s bedroom.
Megan yawned and said, “I’m exhausted.”
Wayne said, “That was fun.”
“It’s still fun,” Megan said.
They started to kiss again, slowly, then took off each other’s shirts. Megan’s bed stretched out on the floor, no frame, no headboard, the mattress covered in blankets but missing a sheet. They moved past the dresser and the chest that didn’t match and kissed more and stood on the bed and kissed and knelt and finally lay down and kept kissing until the kisses were between drifts that lead to sleep.
A little vaporizer sat on an old crate near the window and all night it hummed and floated tiny clouds into the room. Wayne liked the way his naked stomach felt against Megan’s naked stomach. They could have done more but he knew this was enough, that a little skin can mean more than a lot of skin with the right person.
He woke up on his back, Megan’s leg across his stomach. He stayed like that even though it was almost eleven o’clock and his parents were going to be pissed, pissed beyond pissed. But at least they would be at church and he could go home and have a minute to do something, to think up a lie or to get prepared to be smashed or to just shower and enjoy the hot water.
He slid from under Megan’s leg and stood and put on his shirt.
Megan, barely opening her eyes, said, “Don’t leave.”
He said, “I have to. My folks are crazy.”
She pulled the blanket from the floor and covered her tits but not completely. It was like a painting. She was like a painting, like a woman some guy in Italy about two hundred years ago would make famous with his brush and oils.
Wayne said, “You are really beautiful, like over-the-top beautiful,” and he meant it and was embarrassed to say it because it’d come out as fast as a thought.
“I’ll come home with you. I’ll kick the crazy right out of your parents.”
“My dad’s a lot bigger than you.”
“But I’m tough,” she said, her eyes still closed.
He dropped to his knees and kissed her on the lips, on the cheek, in her hair. She told him to write down her phone number and he put it in his phone. His phone had almost no numbers in it. It was a shit phone.
Wayne stood again and his stomach growled, loud and long, like a gurgle.
Megan sat up and said, “Did you hear that? Let’s get breakfast,” and stretched and lazily opened her eyes.
Wayne wanted breakfast.
He couldn’t have breakfast.
He’d already had the night.
He said, “I have your phone in my phone.”
He said, “Your number.”
He said, “I have it.”
Megan said, “I’m okay with all this.” She said, “You need to remember to look around. I think you forget you’re always the smartest guy in the room.”
“That’s great,” Megan said. “You’re pretty cute too.”
He figured McDonald's was still serving breakfast. If his parents stayed for coffee and fellowship, they wouldn’t be home until one, maybe two.
Traffic was nothing.
Wayne drove and thought: Megan.
McDonald's served lunch so Wayne ordered the two-cheeseburger combo meal. But his parents had not stayed for coffee and fellowship. Wayne did not check the garage for his parents’ car like he should have before entering the house. When he opened the front door, his dad sat up from the couch he’d been sprawled out on, probably dozing.
Wayne regretted not calling the night before with some made-up excuse. Even a lie that was obviously a lie would have been better than the nothing he did.
His father said, “McDonald's? You’re kidding me, right?”
He was not dressed in church clothes but jeans and a t-shirt. He wore a Pirates baseball cap, an old one that was flat on top and roped with yellow stripes. His hair, which was shaved on the sides and not much longer on top, the same cut he’d been wearing since his time in the Navy, peeked out from the cap. It was man hair, hair not to be noticed, practical hair, and Wayne did not understand it.
Wayne looked at his father who kept staring at the McDonald's bags.
Wayne said, “I was hungry. I worked late.”
His dad said, “You worked late, bullshit.”
Wayne’s mother appeared from the hall. She wore her church clothes, a black and white stripped dress with a cardigan over the top, but no shoes. Her fingers curled into fists around two silver quarters. It was obvious she hadn’t left the house, that she couldn’t attend church without Wayne, that his father wouldn’t allow it, but she looked pretty somehow, despite her puffy face, despite the smeared make-up that stained her collar. She opened her hands and looked for the quarters, like they’d almost escaped, like they’d been out all night with Wayne.
Speaking to her husband she said, “Let him talk first.” Then she said, “Wayne, do you know I almost called the cops? Do you understand I thought you were in jail?”
Wayne said, “Why would I be in jail?”
She said, “Where else would you be?”
Wayne’s father stood from the couch like he did not want to stand but had to. He sighed and walked across the room to Wayne.
Wayne braced himself. He’d been slapped before, many times. He’d been choked. If he went back far enough in his memories, years, to elementary school, he’d been kicked in the ass so hard it bruised. He’d been beaten with a belt.
Wayne put both hands on the McDonald’s bag. He held it there, below his waist, like it would block something, like it would cushion his fall.
But his father leaned slowly into him like he was going to kiss Wayne on the neck. He came in like Megan had done so many times the night before but then he stopped, his cheek past Wayne’s cheek, almost past Wayne’s ear.
Wayne did not speak. He did not breathe.
Then his father sniffed at Wayne like Wayne was a bad allergy, like he was shit, like he was a stench, the opposite of how Megan moved and breathed, the opposite of love and closeness and staying out all night. His dad sniffed again, twice, one more obnoxiously loud then the previous, and he stepped back and walked towards the kitchen, shaking his head.
“It’s weed again,” his father said.
Wayne said, “What?” because he didn’t know what else to say.
In the kitchen Wayne’s father opened some drawers.
Wayne looked at his mom.
He wanted her to not be crazy. To stand up to her husband would have been impossible but to nod at Wayne or smile or simply stop walking and clutching coins would have made a connection they could have saved and built upon. Instead, she shook her head and pulled a tissue from her dress and blew her nose, loudly. Then she stopped blowing her nose and folded the tissue and blew again.
“I hope it was worth it,” she said, tissue still at her face.
Wayne heard his father in the kitchen, fixing a cup of coffee. His mother tucked the tissue and paced away. His father reappeared with a mug the size of a soup bowl. He walked out of his way to come close to Wayne before sitting on the couch. He flicked on the TV. It was preachers.
He turned to Wayne and said, “You’re dismissed.”
Wayne didn’t know exactly what that meant, if he was free to eat his cheeseburgers or if he’d just been kicked out of the house or if there was a beating still to be administered once everyone settled in and got fortified with coffee and ritual. The door to his bedroom stood open but he didn’t know how to move there.
His father said, “Are you retarded now too?”
Wayne wanted to say yes but he remembered to look around. He remembered to remember that he was the smartest person in the room.
His father said, “Brain damaged from low-grade drugs, disgusting.”
Wayne looked at his dad and wondered what it was like to have not graduated from high school and still be able to believe in your own intelligence.
Wayne’s father said, “Will you go somewhere, for heaven’s sake?”
Wayne said, “I’m sorry.”
His father said, “Nice try.”
A family picture in an expensive frame—expensive for Wayne’s family—hung on the wall from the photography studio at Walmart and Wayne looked happy even though he’d been embarrassed to wear a tie, even though he’d been in seventh grade, too old for a family photo, and his mom looked happy and his dad was smiling for real, not forced. That’d been ten years ago. Both parents wore sweaters.
Wayne sat down on his bed, his bed with a frame and a headboard and covered with a sheet, and he started to eat the French fries which were still hot and covered with salt. He stood up and pulled his phone from his pocket and found Megan’s number. Next time they’d do more. They would talk and they would be without shirts and they would do the other things after that. He pushed his thumb to Megan’s contact but hung up before it rang. He did it again then finished the French fries and held up the container and tipped it to his mouth to get the extra salt.
Dave Newman is the author of the novels Two Small Birds (Writers Tribe Books, 2014), Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children (Writers Tribe Books, 2012), and Please Don’t Shoot Anyone Tonight (World Parade Books, 2010), and the collection, The Slaughterhouse Poems (White Gorilla Press, 2013), named one of the Best Books of 2013 by L Magazine. He’s worked as a truck driver, a bookstore manager, an air filter salesman, a house painter, and a college teacher. More than 100 of his poems and stories have appeared in magazines throughout the world, including Gulf Stream, Word Riot, Smokelong Quarterly, Rattle, Wormwood Review, Tears in the Fence (UK), and The New Yinzer. He has been the featured writer and on the cover of both 5AM and Chiron Review. Anthologies include Beside the City of Angels (World Parade Books) and The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary Poetry (Autumn House Press). Newman has won three chapbooks prizes. In 2004, he received the Andre Dubus Novella Award. He lives in Trafford, Pennsylvania, with his wife, the writer Lori Jakiela, and their two children.