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Drug Store Cherry Bomb
Red. That was that color that would really set my mother over the edge. In the past week everything I had done was to push her a little further. Let’s see how far I can stretch her this time. It’s not my fault it’s come to this. I’ll pay for it. Oh, don’t you worry. It’ll be just like last time.
You see, for the week before daddy comes home from his business trips, she changes. She becomes Mrs. Susie Homemaker. Baking, cleaning, not laying a finger on their 17-year-old daughter. Letting the girl leave and see her friends so she’ll have good stories to tell daddy when he comes home. Pshha. I have plenty of good stories.
The ones I make up in the crawl space in my closet while I ice the fresh black eye or swollen lip.
She’s usually careful about my face. And my arms. An occasional finger print bruise that can be explained by “my extreme anemia” or “gave blood. Saved three lives.” Fake smiley Face.
But now daddy’s coming home and I’m free for a week. Free to have my revenge. Bright red hair might just set her over the edge. All I need is her to act up in front of daddy. Just one strike and I’ll have reason to show him the rest of the bruises. The swollen purple one from the cracked ribs I was currently hiding under my layered tee shirt.
Which one? Was I going Alison Sudol “natural ginger” or maybe a Hayley Williams “Pressure” music video red?
“Can I help you?” I hear behind me. I’m a skittish creature (by experience) so I jump and turn, backing up into the shelf, knocking every shade of red imaginable onto the floor. Well fiddlesticks.
“I’m so sorry!” I say to the boy standing in front of me in his “Davis Drugs” uniform Polo. Its barley 8 in the morning, the store has just opened, this kid looks half awake, and I’ve already ruined his day. I stoop to pick up as many boxes as I can.
“Hey, it’s cool. It’s my job,” he says with a smirk as he stoops and helps me.
“Oh, I have no idea where any of these go!” I mumble, my British accent slipping out through my carelessness.
“Hey, it’s fine. Honest,” he says, taking the boxes out of my hands and sitting down on the floor. “It’s just an excuse for me to not go clean the bathrooms.”
I slide down to the floor across the aisle from him, eyeing him cautiously. I don’t like to trust people, but there was something about this boy…
“So was that an accent I detected?” he asked. I cursed myself for letting it slip. People hear it and then they ask questions. Questions are bad. I get nervous, and my palms get clammy. I run a hand through my dull brown hair.
“Um, yea. Hard habit to break. We moved here two years ago from ‘across the pond,’ as my dad’s business friends always call it. Yes I like the Beatles, yes it rains all the time in London, yes I’m old enough to drink there, no I’ve never been to the red light district, just because I lived in London doesn’t mean I’ve been everywhere in Europe. I mean, you’ve lived her all your life right? Have you been to New York City or Hollywood?”
“Hey, hey calm down,” he said, putting a hand on my knee. I whimper and shove away from him. “Sorry. I wasn’t trying to upset you. You must get questioned a lot.”
“Yes, something like that…” I mumble, pulling my knees to my chest.
“Well, as a member of the friendly staff here at Davis Drugs, I offer my services to you, miss…?” he smiles with a last question in his eyes.
“Just call me Kaley, thanks,” I smile back.
“Kaley…” he says. He nods to himself and then picks up a box of dye. “Red, huh? That’ll look good. I recommend this one. It’s the kind my mom uses. It doesn’t wash out very easily so it’ll last for awhile. My mom goes dark but your complexion will look good with red hair. Your eyes, too.” I stare at him with a strange look. “What? Only child to a single mother. Very straight, but I’m in touch with my feminine side.” He grins slowly.
“Okay, then. This one it is,” I say, shooting a smile back. I rise to go pay for the dye in this Casanova’s hand. He stands too, drawing us close in the small aisle.
“Ah, the reason we don’t have shopping carts. You cannot be expected to have cross traffic in an aisle this small,” he rambles, moving down the aisle. I giggle quietly, cursing myself one more for letting this… philanderer see he has an effect on me.
He smiles and leads the way to the cash register. The store seems nearly empty with the exception of the occasional scraping noise coming from the pharmacy.
“Are you the only one working?” I ask as he rings my dye up.
“Nope. Becky’s in the back sorting, and I’m up here. ‘Till nine, anyway. I’m just filling in for an hour for someone else. That will be eight dollars and thirty-five cense.” I hand over cash and then grimace. Where am I going to do this at? I hadn’t thought that far ahead when I left Abby’s this morning. She’s going out of town and I certainly couldn’t do it at home. Oh fiddlesticks.
“What’s the matter?” he asks, handing my change back and seeing the horror on my face.
“Well, I don’t actually have anywhere to do this at,” I explain, realizing a moment too late that this is opening more doors to this boy I don’t even know. Is it his eyes that are doing this to me, turning me into some kind of… girl!? Oh, the horror of it…
“Not at home?” he asks, confusedly.
“Do most teenage girls come into a drug store to buy bright red hair dye at 8:17 in the morning and take it home to their mothers? Geez, ever seen a rebel before?” I ask, turning to lean against the counter to think.
“Most of the rebels I’ve seen are more well thought than this,” he jokes, coming around to lean next to me, refraining from contact this time. “But none are quiet as pretty as you,” he says, catching my eye from behind the wall of hair that has cascaded between us.
I blush slightly, and pinch myself for it. This is just a game. He probably does this all the time with every girl that comes through here. Me? Pretty? Ha. Funny. I don’t even wear makeup, and always clothing that covers the most amount of skin. After all, she needs a big canvas for her freak-outs…
“Do it here,” he says suddenly, pulling me back to the present.
“Huh?” I say, dumbly.
“Here, in the bathroom. There’s this big utility sink with a hose and spray nozzle. Do it here. I’ll help. No one comes in here before ten anyways. I’ll tell Becky I’m cleaning the bathroom and she will come sit our here. Come on.” He takes my hand and before I can tug it away he jogging to the bathroom across the store. He ducks in to tell the middle-ages pharmacist that he’ll be cleaning the bathroom and to watch the register. She doesn’t even look up, just nods and cleans up the pills lying on the counter. He pulls me into the bathroom and closes the door, locking it.
I see the usual toilet and sink but also a large tub-like sink in the corner with the promised short hose and spray nozzle. He pulls me over to sit on the toilet and tears into the box still in his hand.
“It already looks spotless in here,” I comment.
“It is. I cleaned it before my shift started. Had to keep my hands busy,” he briefly explains and I watch his cheeks turn a rosy pink. Why would he be embarrassed? “Okay, when did you last wash your hair, because greasy hair holds color better.”
“Um, yesterday morning,” I answer. He nods as he begins mixing chemicals. “Have you done this before? Because I haven’t.”
“Yup. Loads of times,” he responds with a smile. Proud of his femininity, but embarrassed about boredom? “Okay, here, wrap this around you in case of drips.” He pulls a towel off a stack in the corner by the tub and wraps it securely around me. He smells of soap and something sweet… like rain.
SNAP OUT OF IT, GIRL! I’m losing my mind here. I don’t even know who I am anymore. Dying my hair, touching people, talking, sniffing boys in bathrooms? Who am I? Before I am finished with my thoughts, I feel fingers and liquid in my hair. He starts at the roots framing my face and works through my part, combing through all the roots thoroughly. He massages the dye into the rest of my hair, covering it all and piling it in a sticky, slimy mess on top of my head. The chemicals are strong in the tiny room but not too much that I can’t handle it. When he’s fished, he pulls the gloves of and checks his watch.
“20 minutes. Then rinse. So…” he leaved conversation open as he slides to the floor on the wall opposite me.
“Tell me about you,” I say before he asks any questions about me.
“Um… what do you want to know?” he asks.
Before I can think my mouth moves.
In twenty minutes I find myself wondering how someone like Collin (that’s his name, but his name tag always falls off) can be so open. He tells me, literally, everything. His mother is a dancer at the school of arts, a teacher in fact. His father was too but deserted her when the Chicago ballet asked him to join. His mother had an eating disorder that lead to Collin being born pre-mature. He has a type of high-functioning autism. He must keep busy or he acts up (that’s why he was embarrassed). He’s home-schooled by his mother but, contrary to popular belief, has zero rhythm and cannot dance, despite having two rhythmic parents.
“Wow,” is all I say when he finishes.
“Yea… time to rinse,” he says, standing. I rise too, dropping the towel in a bin and leaning over the tub, careful of my ribs, only wincing a little. They have mostly healed…
Collin turns on the water to a warm temperature and rinses the dye away. I watch as the bright red mixes with the clear water to swirl a moment in front of my face before disappearing down the drain. Collin works the conditioner into my hair and rinses that out, turning the water off when he is done. He rings my long hair out and uses another towel to soak up some more of the moisture. He pulls me forward under the automatic hand dryer and the real fun begins.
Being that we have no comb, we dry my hair, using our finger to comb through it. This results in awkward bumps and laughter, wincing on my part after it jostles my sore ribs. I hope Collin doesn’t notice. It takes nearly 47 sessions of hand drying to finish drying my hair. He won’t let me see it yet, though, until he’s fixed it into a presentable manner.
“There,” he says, finished finally. I turn around and gasp.
Red. A lot of red. I grin madly and throw myself at Collin hugging him tightly.
“This is the most brilliant thing I’ve ever seen!” I giggle madly, ignoring the sting in my ribs. Collin joins in my laughter.
Then there’s that moment. That moment when the world stops and your face to face and everything gets real quiet. The part of the movie when the hero kisses his heroin. And I guess that’s what happens because I’m looking into his blue, blue eyes and he’s looking into my dull green ones and his eyes flicker to my lips a breath from his and then they are touching and he’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever tasted and it’s so soft and tender and his hand is on my waste and OUCH THAT HURT. I tug back, dropping to the floor as a tremor of panic racks my body, centered at my rib cage. I whimper a little and feel Collin drop to his knees next to me. He tugging at my layers, digging down to my skin that I’m clawing at, begging the pain to stop. He finally reaches and doesn’t say a word. He doesn’t comment on the blossom of purple and yellow covering my abdomen. I pull the shirts back down quickly, standing and backing up to the door, ignoring the pain rolling through me in waves.
“The police. Have you contacted them?” Collin asks with a straight face, an intensity filling his eyes.
“No.” Collin reaches for the cell phone in his pocket. “No!” I screech, lunging forward in an attempt to take the phone and only end up crashing into him when pain paralyzes my body. He wraps arms around me, supporting my wait when my knees give out. “Please, no...” I whimper.
“Why, Kaley?” he asks, looking down at me, this broken girl in his arms who once looked strong and proud to him. The cherry bomb dud.
“I just… I have to get him to see…”
“Who?” Who, Kaley?” he says, holding me tighter.
“My father! If he sees just once… he’ll leave… he’ll take me with him…” I bury my face in Collins uniform, hiding from his disappointment.
“How long?” he asks after a long moment.
“Well, I’m 17, so um about 18 years?” I say jokingly, pulling myself from his arms when the pain recedes.
“This isn’t a joke, Kaley!” he yells.
“Don’t you think I know that!? It’s not a joke, Collin! It’s my life! Do you think I do this all the time? Dye my hair in random bathrooms with boys I’ve known for all of half an hour and then tell them all my dirty little secrets!? Tell them my mommy beats me because she can’t stand that my father is away all the time? Her telling me it’s my fault and me believing it for 17 years? Him coming home for 2 weeks at a time and then leaving for twice as long, moving to America and having to hide the bruises in all this d*mn sun, where we wear short sleeves every day and needing to be a wall flower so people like you don’t ask questions.” I take several deep breaths.
“Kaley, I had no idea…” he said, horror filling his face as he realizes the true extent of it.
“The worst of it? Giving away my first kiss to a boy in a bathroom who didn’t even know my story and probably thinks I’m a weak little freak now that he does. Knowing that in half an hour your shift will end and you’ll be gone and I’ll never see you again, knowing my secret is wherever you are.”
“What!?” I scream, breathing heavy in terror and anger, fighting back tears.
“Kaley, you are not weak. You’re the strongest person I know, I don’t even know you.” Collin steps forward, taking my hands and looking me straight in the eye. “But I’d like to,” he whispers. “My shift ends in half an hour. Stick around. You can finish your story at my house. Where you can stay as long as you want. You see, my mom’s always wanted a daughter.”
“Collin, I can’t live with you.” I say, wanting with all my hope for that to be wrong.
“Why not?” he asks. “I offered. My mom would love to have you. Adopt you, even, if we have to. We live two doors from the high school so you can still attend. Just tell your father, Kaley.”
“Is it… is it that simple?” I ask, searching his eyes.
“I don’t know… you tell me,” he says, a smile morphing his face. I wrap my arms around him, holding on for my life in the bathroom of the Drug Store.