“Pull in,” I said to Jess. I turned around in my seat. “Hey Liss?”
“Hmmm?” she said.
“Be still, okay? Stay down.”
“Okay,” she said uncertainly.
We chugged along. Jess said, “You or me?”
“Me,” I told her, taking a last sip of my drink. “I need this tonight.”
Jess pushed the gas a little harder.
“You ready?” she asked me.
I nodded, my Zip Diet balanced in my hand. Perfect.
Jess gunned it, hard, and we were moving. By the time Adam looked over at us, it was too late.
It wasn’t my best. But it wasn’t bad either. As we whizzed by, the cup turned end over end in the air, seeming weightless. It hit him square in the back of the head, spilling Diet Coke and ice in a wave down his back.
“Goddammit!” he yelled after us as we blew past. “Lissa! Dammit! Remy! You bitch!”
He was still yelling when I lost sight of him.
After a sleeve and a half of Oreos, four cigarettes, and enough Kleenex to pad the world, I finally got Lissa to go to sleep. She was out instantly, breathing through her nose, legs tangled around my comforter.
I got a blanket, one pillow, and went into my closet, where I stretched out across the floor. I could see her from where I was, and made sure she was still sleeping soundly as I pushed aside the stack of shoe boxes I kept in the far right corner and pulled out the bundle I kept there, hidden away.
I’d had such a bad night. I didn’t do this all the time, but some nights I just needed it. Nobody knew.
I curled up, pulling the blanket over me, and opened the folded towel, taking out my portable CD player and headphones. Then I slipped them on, turned off the light, and skipped to track seven. There was a skylight in my closet, and if I lay just right, the moonlight fell in a square right across me. Sometimes I could even see stars.
The song starts slowly. A bit of guitar, just a few chords. Then a voice, one I knew so well. The words I knew by heart. They did mean something to me. Nobody had to know. But they did.
This lullaby is only a few words
A simple run of chords
Quiet here in this spare room
But you can hear it, hear it
Wherever you may go
I will let you down
But this lullaby plays on…
I’d fall asleep to it, to his voice. I always did. Every time.
“Mother of pearl!”
In the waiting room, the two ladies on deck for manicures looked at each other, then at me.
“Bikini wax,” I explained.
“Oh,” said one, and went back to her magazine. The other just sat there, ears perked like a hunting hound, waiting for the next shriek. It wasn’t long before Mrs. Michaels, enduring her monthly appointment, delivered.
“ H-E- double-hockey-sticks!” Mrs. Michaels was the wife of one of the local ministers, and loved God almost as much as having a smooth, hairless body. In the year I’d worked at Joie Salon, I’d heard more cussing from the back room where Talinga worked her wax strips than all the other rooms combined. And that included bad manicures, botched haircuts, and even one woman who was near perturbed about a seaweed body wrap that turned her the color of key lime pie.
Not that Joie was a bad place. It was just that you couldn’t please everyone, especially women, when it came to their looks. That’s why Lola, who owned Joie, had just given me a raise in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, I’d turn my back on going to Stanford and stay at her reception desk forever, keeping people under control.
I’d gotten the job because I wanted a car. My mother had offered to give me her car, a nice Camry, and buy herself a new one, but it was important to me that I do this on my own. I loved my mother, but I’d learned long ago not to enter into any more agreements with her than I had to. Her whims were legendary, and I could just see her taking the car back when she decided she no longer was happy with her new one.
So I emptied out my savings account-which consisted mostly of baby-sitting and Christmas money I’d hoarded forever-got out Consumer Reports, and did all the research I could on new models before hitting the dealerships. I wrangled and argued and bluffed and put up with so much car-salesman bullshit it almost killed me, but in the end I got the car I wanted, a new Civic with a sunroof and automatic everything, at a price way off the manufacturer’s suggested rip-off retail. The day I picked it up, I drove over to Joie and filled out an application, having seen a RECEPTIONIST WANTED sign in their front window a week or so earlier. And just like that, I had a car payment and a job, all before my senior year even began.
Now, the phone rang as Mrs. Michaels emerged from the waxing room. At first I’d been startled by how bad people looked right afterward: like war victims, or casualties of a fire. She was walking stiffly-bikini waxes were especially brutal-as she came up to my desk.
“Joie Salon,” I said into the phone. “Remy speaking.”
“Remy, hello, this is Lauren Baker,” the woman on the other end said in a rushed voice. Mrs. Baker was always all wispy sounding and out of breath. “Oh, you just have to fit me in for a manicure today. Carl’s got some big client and we’re going to La Corolla and this week I restripped the coffee table and my hands are just-”
“One second please,” I said, in my clipped, oh-so-professional voice, and hit the hold button. Above me, Mrs. Michaels grimaced as she pulled out her wallet, sliding a gold credit card across to me. “That’s seventy-eight, ma’am.”
She nodded, and I swiped the card, handing it back to her. Her face was so red, the area around her eyebrows practically raw. Ouch. She signed the slip, then glanced at herself in the mirror behind me, making a face.
“Oh, goodness,” she said. “I guess I can’t go to the post office looking like this.”
“Nonsense!” Talinga, the waxer, said as she breezed in, ostensibly for some good reason but actually to make sure Mrs. Michaels’s tip was big enough and made it into her envelope. “No one will even notice. I’ll see you next month, okay?”
Mrs. Michaels waggled her fingers, then walked out the door, still moving stiffly. Once she hit the curb Talinga grabbed her envelope, leafed through the bills there, and made a hmmph kind of noise before flopping down in a chair and crossing her legs to await her next appointment.
“Moving on,” I said, hitting the button for line one. I could hear Mrs. Baker panting before I even started talking. “Let’s see, I could squeeze you in at three-thirty, but you have to be here right on the dot, because Amanda’s got a firm four o’clock.”