The drive to Elizabeth’s house was a short one since she only lived a couple blocks from Gabrielle. The two of them were not the best of friends, but they weren’t exactly enemies either. In recent weeks in fact, they had become increasingly more civil the more time they spent together.
We drove down Sierra Boulevard, the street lights and stop lights playing against the black asphalt like the lights of the dance club. I had one hand on the wheel, and one hand in hers, feeling the electricity course between the two of us as she ran her nail up my forearm while. With her other hand, she ran her nails up the inside of my forearm ever so gently sending a chill up my spine beneath my red flannel shirt. Rancid played in the background the gravel tones of Tim Armstrong a distant ring in the distance.
…Never fell in love, ‘til I fell in love with you. I never knew what a good time was, ’til I had a good time with you…
Elizabeth’s modest single story house was brightly lit by the porch lights a dim blue and white. There was the slightest hint of honeysuckle in the air. She came out the red door like she was on a wire, electric with life and energy. She always seemed to be wound that way, just happy and effervescent. Skipping down the driveway, she made no apologies what emanated from her. Elizabeth was not very tall, what she lacks in height though, she made up for in personality and stunning good looks.
Lights seemed brighter around her; the street seemed to glow in her presence clinging to her skin tight white thermal like a lover’s hands. Liz’s lavender corduroy pants sat low on her hips, clinging equally tight. She reached the car and stopped for an affected bow as Gabrielle exited the front seat to allow her into the back. Elizabeth, with a mocking smile to gabby, broke into an infectious grin that took us all.
“Miss Mendoza,” Liz said through her smile. She stood and grabbed the rope-like braids of blond hair that you came down just over her chest.
“Why hello Miss Slatter,” Gabrielle said as she returned the mocking bow with an affected courtesy. “You look cute tonight, where did you get this?” Gabby gingerly touched the arm of Liz’s thermal as they spoke.
“Yeah,” she said, “I got it at the plaza. We should go sometime—a time when we’re without these monkeys,” she said gesturing to Burns and me.
“I’d like that Liz. I’ll bring the Boones and we’ll ditch these bozos for the day,” Gabby said with a smile that never reached her eyes.
As quickly as she sprang down the driveway, she jumped in the back seat straddling Burns, bestowing on him a million tiny kisses.
“Hi,” she said “I missed you Burnsie.” Finally ceasing her barrage of overkill mush, she rested her head on his shoulder still straddling his seated body. “Oh, hi Clay,” she said absently over her shoulder at me, but after our history, it is what I came to expect.
Gabby got in, and shut the door, eyeing Liz and then me as she fastened her seatbelt. “Now what?”
Her attitude always seemed to change a little bit around Liz. I know it was because of the history we had together, and no matter how slight the carnal knowledge of her, it didn’t seem to cease the filter she saw me through. Liz and our tryst seemed to always come to mind, and hell, why wouldn’t it. It was the second person I had been even slightly sexual with, and Gabby knew that. She had really liked the idea that I had never had any sexual encounters before her, and Liz was a reminder that this was no longer the case.
“Well,” Liz said her voice a chorus of pleasant notes, “I am thirsty. Did you bring any Snow Creek Berry? It’s the pride of Boone’s Farm you know.”
“No,” Burns said, “but we can fix that pretty quick. Besides, I want some beer anyway. I plan to be obliterated within the next four hours, what do you think Clay?”
“That sounds good. You got any requests Gabby?”
“Just some cloves,” she said, as she picked up where she left off scratching the inside my forearm ever so gently, delivering that slow drip of her special brand of dope.
“Cool, one more stop then,” I said as we made for the Texaco.
Everyone knew about the gas station on Slover. Owned by a young immigrant guy from India, he’d sell anything, to anyone. That was the spot for, beer, smokes, and of course Boone’s Farm for the girls.
The gas station was dimly lit. The smell was a mixture of gasoline and garbage and one of the windows have been broken out and replaced with a piece of plywood on which was spray painted with the words, “yes we are open.” I parked at one of the pumps and me and Burns left the girls in the car while we went in for provisions. Through the glass door, the chime of the entry bell marked our arrival as I made for the cooler doors.
“What’s up Reggie,” Burns said as we walked by.
“Hello my friends, how are you doing today?” He was polishing the glass surface of the counter that carried the lottery tickets and hid the extra cartons of Marlboros that he had under the counter.
“Good man, just thirsty,” Burns confessed as we reached in the cooler to retrieve a 12pack of Budweiser each for us, and a Boone’s Farm Snow Creek Berry each for the girls in the next door over. He went up to the counter first, and gave Reggie a charming Burns grin and a twenty dollar bill.
Behind the counter sat the short young Indian man who we knew only as Reggie. I was pretty sure that wasn’t his actual name, but who really knows. Reggie looked at the twenty for a long moment before he hit the No Sale button on the register and slipped the twenty under the drawer before he closed it. We all knew that a 12 pack of beer and a bottle of Boone’s Farm cost less than twenty dollars, but it was the price you had to pay if you wanted to buy.
I never felt more like a child than I did coming in here to buy booze. My friends were all at least old enough to buy cigarettes and vote, but me; I was the only 17 year old in the mix. Back, years earlier, I had skipped the 1st grade so I was used to being the youngest, but that did not mean I wasn’t self-conscious about it when it came to buying beer and wine, or even clove cigarettes for my girlfriend. At any rate, I cautiously approached the counter as I always did, even though I’d been buying beer here since the previous summer. I gave a dim smile to Reggie.
“How’s going Reggie?” I said my voice a bit too quiet.
“Very good thank you, anything else today?” His accent was thick with the memory of his former life, not incoherent, but colored bright with the east. I thought it was awesome.
“Yeah,” I said clearing my throat, “a pack of Djarum and a pack of Camels.” As I spoke, I reached into my back pocket to get my wallet.
I handed him a ten and a twenty, smiled, and turned to walk out the door, knowing full well there would be no change.
“Thank you my friends,” he said in the way he always did, “I will be here until 12am—please comeback if you need anything at all.”
“Thanks Reggie,” Burns said to him as he exited right behind me, the chime of the door echoing behind us on the glass and metal fascia of the store.
We had that familiar pep in our steps, the one that usually followed getting away with something, and we grinned a practical rictus at one another as we narrowed the distance between us and the Chevy. As we approached, I realized that there was a figure standing with his arms leaned on the passenger door having a conversation with the girls. I couldn’t tell who it was, but the dirty blonde hair hanging in his face, and the baggy cargo pants and red hoodie gave me a pretty good idea of who it was.
As we reached the car, my breath caught in my throat, and I was certain that my night had just taken a turn for the complicated.