This Lullaby

Author: P Hana

Page 68


“If I had a car like this,” Lissa said now, turning around completely in her seat, “I would live in it. I could live in it. And still have room to rent.”

“It is huge,” I agreed, glancing behind me, where there were two more rows of seats before you even got close to the back door. “It’s kind of sick, actually. Who needs this much room?”

“Maybe he buys a lot of groceries,” Lissa suggested.

“He’s a college student,” I told her.

“Well,” she said, shrugging, “all I know is I wish he didn’t have a girlfriend. I’ve decided I like cute rich boys.”

“What’s not to like,” I said absently as I watched Paul and Trey eye the guy behind the counter-it was well-known underground information which Zip clerks checked IDs closely and which didn’t-and make their way to the rear of the store, picking up not one but two packs of Skittles for Lissa on the way. These boys did nothing in a small way, or so I was learning. Everything Paul had bought me in the two weeks we’d been dating had been Supersized or Doubled, and he always reached for his wallet immediately, not even entertaining my efforts to go Dutch every once in a while. He was still Perfect Paul, the Ideal Boyfriend Exhibit A. And yet something in me continued to nag, as if I just wasn’t enjoying this-the fruit of so many years of hard dating work-enough.

I heard a rattling noise and glanced over to my left, startled to see the Truth Squad van pull up right beside us. I started to lean back, out of sight, before remembering that the windows were tinted so black you couldn’t see in. Ted was behind the wheel, a cigarette poking out of his mouth, and John Miller was in the passenger seat. As we watched, he leaned down and pulled on his door handle, and it swung open, but for some reason he forgot to let go and was taken with it, quickly dropping out of sight, the door left ajar.

Ted glanced over at the empty seat, sighed in an irritated way, and got out of the van, slamming his door behind him. “Idiot,” he said loud enough for us to hear as he rounded the front bumper, where we could still see him through the windshield. He was looking down at the pavement. “Are you hurt?”

We couldn’t hear John Miller’s reply. But by then I was distracted anyway, because I’d spotted Dexter climbing clumsily into the front seat of the van, tripping over the gearshift before tumbling into the driver’s seat and then out the door, dropping to the pavement a bit more gracefully than John Miller but not by much. He had on the same orange T-shirt as the day I’d met him, with a white oxford cloth shirt over it. Sticking out of the front pocket was another one of those warped wedding cameras. He looked in Lissa’s window, peering close, but couldn’t see anything. She just stared back, as if on the hidden side of a two-way mirror.

“Isn’t that Dexter?” she whispered, keeping her voice low-Trey’s window, on the driver’s side, was open-as he pulled the camera out of his pocket and leaned in, taking a picture of her black window. The flash lit the whole inside of the truck for a second, and then he went to stick it back in his pocket, missing once, before fitting it back in.

“Yeah,” I said as we watched him stumble slightly as he rounded the front of the van, reaching out a hand to touch Trey’s bumper for support. He was weaving, and not in the typical Dexter-clumsy way. He seemed drunk.

“Okay, look you two,” Ted announced as Dexter ambled up, “I said I’d get you here and I did. But I’ve got a date with Mary and she’s already pissed at me so this is the end of the line. I’m not a taxi service.”

“My good man,” I heard John Miller say, in a faux Robin Hood voice, “you have done your duty.”

“Are you going to get up, or what?” Ted asked.

John Miller got to his feet. He was still in his work clothes but looked entirely wrinkled, as if someone had balled him up in a pocket for a couple of hours. His shirt was hanging out, his pants totally creased, and he, too, had a disposable camera, sticking out of one of his pants pockets. He had a scratch on his cheek, too, which looked fresh, probably the result of the tumble from the van. He reached up and touched it, as if surprised to find it there, then let his hand drop.

“My good man,” Dexter said, flopping an arm around Ted, who immediately made a face, clearly fed up, “we owe you the greatest of favors.”

“My good man,” John Miller echoed, “we will repay you with gold, and maidens, and our eternal allegiance to your cause. Huffah!”

“Huffah!” Dexter repeated, raising his fist.

“Will you two cut that shit out?” Ted snapped, shaking off Dexter’s arm. “It’s annoying.”

“As you wish, comrade,” John Miller told him. “Raise a glass and huffah!”

“Huffah!” Dexter said again.

“That’s it.” Ted started back to the van. “I’m gone. You guys can huffah all you want-”

“Huffah!” they yelled in unison. John Miller, throwing his arms into it, seemed close to tumbling over again.

“-but you get home on your own. And don’t do anything stupid, okay? We don’t have bail money right now.”

“Huffah!” John Miller said, saluting Ted’s retreating back as he walked away. “Thank you, oh kind sir!”

Ted flipped them the bird, obviously over it, then coaxed the van’s engine to life and backed away, leaving them there in front of the Quik Zip, where they commenced taking pictures of each other posing by the newspaper racks. Inside, I watched as Paul and Trey chatted up the guy behind the counter as he slid their two six-packs into a paper bag.

“Okay, now give me some pout,” Dexter was saying to John Miller, who struck a model’s pose, sticking out his chest and using a stack of coupon fliers as a prop, fanning them in front of his face and peeking over them, seductively. “There, that’s good! Great!” The flash popped, and Dexter wound the film, giggling. “Okay, now do somber. That’s right. You’re serious. You’re hurt…”

John Miller looked out at the road, suddenly mournful, contemplating the Double Burger, which was across the street, with a wistful expression.

“Beautiful!” Dexter said, and they both busted out laughing. I could hear Lissa chuckling in front of me.

John Miller had struck his best pose yet, draping himself across the phone booth and fluttering his eyelashes, when Dexter popped one last flash and ran out of film. “Damn,” he said, shaking the camera, as if that would suddenly make more pictures appear. “Oh, well. So much for that.”