I'm in a 7 Eleven, but for some reason, this 7 Eleven is more of a cross between a Starbucks and a bar than a convenience store. It has a bunch of small tables and there are a whole bunch of people hanging around. I go to a table near the back where a friend of mine is sitting, he asks me if I can order a 7-Up and Iced tea for him. I say no problem.

I go up to the counter and order the drink. It turns out to be about a liter of 7-Up in a large glass with a shot of highly concentrated tea added. I look around and notice that alot of the people in the place are holding this drink. The bartender tells me the drink is $4, I give her a twenty, but she doesn't believe I gave her enough money. I try to argue with her, but she tells me I need to give her $20 more. Eventually I give up and give her the money.

I go back to the table where my friend is waiting and give him his drink. A few more friends have shown up and we sit down to play some kind of card game.

And then I woke up.

I'm teaching an electronics class in a large lecture hall when I glance out the door and see her standing there. She looks absolutely incredible, and my mind goes blank. I dismiss the class and walk out as the students sit, confused, in their seats, as if this is some kind of joke. Smiling, I open the door and pick her up in a bear hug. As we walk, I keep stopping to hug her, over and over again.

We walk out into the rain, talking, and my mind won't stop spinning.

She came to see me.
Maybe she still feels something.
Maybe there is a chance.

Now we are back at my room. I have another class to get to, but it doesn't seem to exist to me. She is the only thing I care about.

Then it is time for her to go. I walk her out to where her family is in the car. I joke with her dad like I used to. As she comes up to give me a final hug before leaving, I pull her tight to my body and softly kiss her forehead. "Bye, honey."

panic:
What did I just do? What did I just say? I can't call her that anymore. What will she think? Will she hate me?

She just smiles and gets in the car. It pulls away, and I'm looking at my clock.

4:17 - no more sleep tonight.
OBJECTS IN REAR VIEW MIRROR STRANGER THAN YOU THINK

She had black hair, cut short and spiky. Bright blue eyes, totally unnatural, like in a TV commercial, or a black & white movie where they only colorize one little thing, and these eyes burned bright bright bright, but one of them had a bruise, a total shiner, bloody like a hickey in spots, with a smear of blood on her cheek. Her skin was pale, kind of, but dirty, and there was no way I could be expected to notice what she was wearing, except that it wasn't anything that you'd say "what an outfit" about.

...and seventeen dollar lips. She hadn't paid seventeen dollars, but if your average gorgeous woman had spent seventeen dollars on lipstick and magazines to make their lips look enticing, it might have looked this good. She pulled it off without trying--I got the feeling she'd applied it at the department store while the cashier wasn't looking, from a brand-new tube that wasn't supposed to be a sampler, and that all the women and pre-pubescent girls who came along afterward were dissapointed in that then-sampler tube because she had used up every ounce of sex appeal in it: she was wearing all the magic out.

All of this registered the second time I saw her--the first glimpse I caught was in the rear-view mirror of a UPS truck parked along the street, storming up from behind me, pissed off at the world. I turned around and got hit head-on with all of this: the eyes, the lips, the blood... she took up so much space, and it wasn't exaggerated. She wasn't trying to make herself a badass, or be the center of attention, she was just so small that her presence was amplified despite her size. And she wasn't even really that tiny, just thin. She had scorned everyone who had ever called her "cute" and that scorn was written in cursive with her compact hips when she strode towards me, and that's when I saw she had a stick, a big-ass branch from a tree.

She's snapping it down from this totally unwieldy branch with every step, breaking off smaller and smaller lengths, and it's shaping up to be a formidable weapon. She's shouting, but I can't hear her over the traffic. It's Marla Singer in Suzie Derkins' body. It's every cute girl I've ever known, growling at me from inside a half-scale German Shepherd or a wolverine. I cannot imagine why the blood on her cheek is not sizzling. At this point I know that under her jeans (or over them?) she's wearing fishnet stockings, and I'm getting an idea of who she is as she keeps shouting:

"--did to me! Look what you fucking did to me! Look what you fucking did to me!"

And she's totally in a place to hit me with the stick and she's not, she just stands there next to me, snapping it over and over and over, shouting and snapping the stick rhythmically. I'm mortified, guilty, I don't know what I did, but here comes (oh shit) her boyfriend, but he's cool. I don't know why, or how, but he's cool. He's like Vince from college, or Owen Wilson, or someone I can't place, but he's cool, he tries to reel her in as she throws twigs on the ground at my feet like she's trying to fence me in. I didn't hit her, I swear. The Boyfriend has a bloody nose. The UPS truck, I notice, is crumpled into a Volkswagen Thing's hood. I'm not wearing a brown uniform, but I think maybe I'm guilty.

"I'm... I'm sorry. Please, what do you want me to do? Please? Tell me what I can do to make it better. Please."

This is me, pleading to her. I want her to want me. She hates my guts.

"You want to know what you can do? Go find another FUCKING state to terrorize! Delaware doesn't WANT you!!"

And I have the answer here, for her:

"I... I have. I really have. I'm not in Delaware, I'm in Ohio."

and she SMILES.

From here on out, we're best friends, her arm around my shoulder, she wants to know why I left Delaware, how Ohio is, not speaking in complete sentences. The boyfriend is a blur at the edge of my vision, but I recognize Brian, happy and confident, unconcerned as other men flirt with Suzy--it's just a glimpse, but this moment is pure and crystal, and I know I am not offending while I quietly lust after this tiny demon he has tamed.

She looks over the papers I am--was not previously, but am now--holding. I can see clearly, these are the Top Secret papers I worked on at my job yesterday, highly classified. But as she pages through them, they become a pamphlet for a Baptist ministry, a slick, glossy lie about Jesus and the burning, Satanic hatred he bears towards everyone who has ever befriended a gay person. She begins to frown and I stammer that it isn't mine, it's not what it appears to be, and she smiles up at me and says,

"Oh, it's fine. The Russians have been making these for years to hide important documents from us. Besides, you haven't seen a church until you've seen our church."

I am dragged in. Archetypical bosomy black women in cheap, shiny faux-satin robes clap and sing, "Whoa-oa-oa-oa-OOOOOA-LORD-Lord-lord! PRAI-ai-ai-ai-aise! HIM!" And the reverend, an Asian gentleman, pours white light from his palms into a thick thick book that says BIBLE on the front, but which is not the Bible. I cannot see clearly, but I think it is the source of the organ music.

She wipes the blood off her cheek, and it pools onto her fingertip like chocolate syrup, shining in the candle light. She offers it up to me, and I take her fingertip in my mouth, tasting it. It only tastes like blood for a moment, and then it is sweet, sour, tangy, alcoholic, warm, cool, minty, sharp... too many flavors. My mind reels. This instant probably lasted for whole minutes while I slept. I was unaware.

Her boyfriend goes into a religious seizure on the floor, the over-fluffed fur collar on his denim jacket protecting his head from the cool stone floor. I turn to her in his absence and say, quickly, under the shouting of the Reverend, the call-backs from the congregation,

"Your car, your man, your church are in ruins. Tell me what city I can find you in. What city?"

...and with a knowing smile, she says, "mumble."
And I ask again,

What city? I can't hear you. Tell me where to find you."

...and with a knowing smile, she says, "mumble."
I hold her shoulders
look her in the eyes
I KNOW she is saying a word. It is the name of a city.
...and with that same knowing smile, she says, "mumble."




i wake up.

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