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As the candy shop on Andy Street speeds into view, it stands out like rust on the shiny surface of this upper class side of town. The surrounding square pale-pink and pale-blue mini castles are like elementary school jerks around that one kid wearing suspenders; the one who never really wipes his nose and eats alone during lunch. They pretend they aren’t staring at Carmi’s Sweets & Confections as they are forced to sit next to it, and they close their doors and lower their shades to its greetings. They wouldn’t help that candy shop if it was getting beaten up, or fell off its bike, or didn’t have a house to sleep in that night.
I, for one, go to that candy shop every day. Maybe it’s beyond just liking candy, maybe I want it to remember that it’s not alone in this cracked, dusty, ugly, fauna infested universe! It has a chance! It has a reason to live! To keep going! Yay!
Or maybe it is that I like candy. Because I like candy a lot.
I swing into the parking lot and lock in my bike, so used to the routine I don’t really have to think about it, and I walk in. It smells like orange and peppermint inside, and the cotton candy colored walls feel so different from the parchment white of the school buildings or the dark stuffy rooms in our cottage downtown. It’s warm in here. It’s pretty. It’s kind of perfect.
I don’t have to look to know Floyd is watching me from his spot at the register. He has better posture than most guys in school, and his too-long hair has the fine quality and artlessness of beach sand. He has some freckles on his cheeks, mixed in with his acne. The manager makes him wear a dorky striped bow tie and never lets him do so much as set foot out of his post at the cash register. When I do sneak a glance at him, he’s reading his book, faking his disinterest. I know that whenever I turn around, his eyes slip back onto me.
Floyd is one of those people that imposes this queer, unspoken relationship with you. You may barely talk to him, but the energy crashes between you two like some electric cataract. Conversations hover sand buzz in the air like water vapor before a hurricane.
I go right to checking the racks. There’s everything that exists that’s terrific in here — candy from across America to Europe, China, Japan, India, even Miss Parker’s peanut butter patties from down the street. I decide to grab the usual: two packs of Skittles and a Diet Coke. I check my hair in the soda fridge’s mirror and pull up my tanktop straps.
I don’t want to loiter around in here with Floyd watching me from behind, so I try to look as blasé as I can while walking to the register. Floyd straightens and folds the cover of his book down. “Hey, Marisol. Hot out today, huh?”
I sniffle. “Not particularly. It’s supposed to rain.”
“Oh.” He glances down at his book, cheeks pinkening. He has a bit of grease on his nose, and his teeth don’t exactly align in front, so his embarrassed smile is a little crooked. “Well, where they are in my book, it’s like, two hundred degrees. Guess I got a little, er, mixed up.” He looks back up and cocks his neck a little as I pull up my straps again. I need to get these shortened.
“Um, alright.” I put my purchase on the little candy-weighing scale in front of him.
“It’s already punched in, the total’s $8.18. You’re one of the only people who comes in here so I entered it in when I got here.”
“Oh, okay.” I pull the remaining cash from lunch out of my back pocket. The dollars are crisp and new, only slightly distorted by the bends my desk chairs and jean shorts etched in them. I count seven and place them on the table, then go back to my pocket to fish for change.
Floyd slowly slides the bills across the table towards the register. “It’s okay, the rest is on me.” I look up to find him being genuine.
“Heh, okay, thanks a bunch, Floyd. I’ll see you tomorrow.” I pick up my sweets and go to make my way back outside, then home.
“Um, Marisol, are you going to leave? Because it looks like that storm you mentioned—”
As if on cue, distant thunder rumbles from out above the hills. It’s hollow and near silent, but it’s definitely there. I won’t usually do something like bike home in a storm, but Floyd’s invitation sounds more like a challenge to me than anything, and I’m pretty anxious to get out of here.
I open the door and a gust of warm, electric wind hits me, but I compose myself immediately. “I’ll be fine, I bet it won’t even start until I get home. I’m pretty fast on my bike.” And before he can get out a goodbye, I swing the door shut while the little bells tied to the handle jingle with the breeze.
I walk out to the side of the store where the bike rack sits. The concrete is warm, I can tell through my rubber-soled flats, which barely make a sound on the extensive pavement. I just have to take the short cut down Finch Street and across Miss Sophie’s driveway, and then—
I turn the corner and the bike rack is sitting there, empty. My lock is on the ground and shattered, and my backpack opened with its contents flaunted across the parking spaces adjacent. I almost lose my balance from shock; my ears hurt and my head feels like it weighs triple its usual amount. That bike is everything to me. It’s my daily transportation, my source for stress relief, my trophy, and my best friend. I even named it; I call it Sanchez when no one’s around. No one can get Sanchez without going through me.
I close my eyes and try to keep calm, to listen. Buzzing, buzzing, buzzing….found it! I spin around in search so fiercely that my Coke bottle spills out of my hand and explodes on my math homework. Down the way I arrived, I can hear the whirr of my bike chain and see the outline of the escapee. Without a second thought, I’m running up Andy Street, forgetting everything but the buzzing.
Have you ever tried to outrun a bike? I wouldn’t recommend the expedition. Especially along the wide vacant roads of a small town in summer’s thick, humid, suffocating air and under graying clouds. I keep pace well at first, trying to figure out any drastic shortcut or elaborate trickery I can pull to get my prize back in my possession. But no, nothing. My legs are getting heavier and my eyes are welling with tears. My mind keeps spinning like the gears of my bike, constant, quiet, untranslatable, and now untraceable. I’m not going to catch him. Nothing sucks worse than being completely helpless like this. I feel the jerk of one of my definitely not sport-oriented shoes getting caught in a hole in the road, and I don’t feel the slightest surprise as I lose my balance and come crashing to the ground.
The thin brightness around me closes in and a familiar scene takes form. A pasty darkness that makes all the trees around look half dead. Rain splattering the windshield of our Toyota. Laughter from the front seat. I feel my arms wrapped around my middle and the steamy heat of the storm. Mom turns around and says some incomprehensible joke to make me feel better, and then promises me we’ll be home soon. Her eyes are blue and gleaming, unaware of the swaying, groaning headlights filling our windshield. Just as time begins to slow in the drama of the crash, her eyes flash a quick but completely lucid goodbye, and her face along with Dad’s silhouette fade into the peaceful brightness.
My eyes open. The brightness is still here, but above me, back in reality. I touch the ground…I must have collapsed completely. I get up slowly, my calves aching and knees bleeding.
Well, this peachy. There’s no way Sanchez is near now, and it’s not like I’ll ever see him again, either. I guess I’ll do what I know best. Move on. Forget. Isolate myself. God, this is so stupid. Why do I always have to accept losing things?
My legs bend together in the heat and I feel my hair is sticky with asphalt. I begin to walk back the way I barely remember coming. None of the houses around look familiar. They don’t look real. No one is outside sorting their recycling or playing basketball or riding their scooters. It’s as if I’m the only person still alive. I’m completely alone.
I feel my legs gathering speed, and suddenly I’m running again. What kind of a psycho leaves her stuff sitting in the middle of a parking lot? My house keys are in my backpack. And my wallet. That is, if they weren’t taken, too. I turn down streets randomly, hoping I can find my way back downtown and home or to Carmi’s or to any place that doesn’t look like the painted background of a Ghost Town from an old western movie. I can feel the cool tears slipping down my cheeks again. The road forks, and I turn right just as the first drops of rainwater perch on my shoulders.
Isn’t that just perfect.
The clouds above form a ring of shadows and darken the heated, jelly-like air. The sky is closing in like a murderer with his butcher knife raised. I keep running as if trying to outrun the storm, now slowly spitting its drops onto my forehead pitifully.
Town Square indistinctly comes into view over the hills again, but the darkness and windswept rain make it challenging to do everything but moving forward, head down. Mist settles along my thighs and I can’t feel my calves anymore. I helplessly fall to my knees in the street, tears soaking my cheeks, only distantly hearing my desperate whimpers through the shattering thunder. I can’t tell right from left. If only I’d have my phone, or life alert, or something.
The rain moves like a curtain through the wind, sweeping and covering me in blows. The only thing that exists right now is rain. The trees are all illusions through the sheets of water and the lukewarm asphalt is only more dense fog suffocating me. I lie down completely and breathe heavily, slowly for a long time.
A flash of blurry white light smears itself into my vision. Headlights, wobbling closer and closer. This is the end, I think. My legs won’t move, and I can’t see which way the street sides are. If I have to die, I want it to be right now, just like my parents. White light swallowing me like it did them, spitting them across the dimensions between our universe and the unknown. I love my brother, I think to myself. I love my brother and I love Sanchez and I love Skittles.
The headlights dim. Does this mean I’ve reached the afterlife? Or heaven, or wherever? I listen for the choruses of angels singing some joyful hymn of eternal peace, but all I hear is the shower of rain and a rhythmic metallic banging, like an open door in the wind.
A new warmth fills my lower thighs and upper back, and I’m hoisted from the sticky, saturated ground. I don’t bring myself to open my eyes. I feel the squish of purposeful steps as they bring me off the road and the warm hands drop me into an open car door. I feel the innocently dry seats fill with the rainwater dripping out of my hair. I force my eyes open to see the outline of Floyd slide in next to me and tenderly close the door.
I feel myself still crying, and feverishly wipe the tears off of my cheeks, smearing my mascara even more. Floyd’s watching me again, but differently; he’s somewhere between amused and mortified. His hand is gently patting my side, and he’s murmuring something along the lines of “It’ll be okay” over and over. At least I can give him an A for Effort.
I get myself to sit up, but my legs still hurt profusely. Behind the nerve racked candy attendant looking me over and ceasing his muttering, I can see myself in the side window. My hair is matted at unsightly angles and my is shirt plastered awkwardly onto my torso, soaking wet. I pull up the top and feel myself redden. I really, really, really need to get these da** straps shortened.
I look back to Floyd, who’s biting his lip, and I try to say something. “Floyd, I—“
“It’s okay, Marisol. I don’t need to know. You don’t have to tell me.”
“But h-how did you even—“
He pulls something from behind him: my backpack and my papers — both completely soaked through — and my half empty bottle of Diet Coke. “Here. I found these, and I didn’t know what to think, and I’ve…kind of started looking for....”
“Like, well, not that long. Maybe an hour or so.”
“Oh my god.”
“Oh my god?”
“I’m so sorry, thank you so much—”
“It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s totally okay—”
“You didn’t have to, I was okay, I was going to be—”
“Hey, just be happy I helped you, okay? And I told you not to go out here. You need to start listening to other people, Marisol. There are people who care about you, you know.” He seems a little overwhelmed with his sharing, and zips his lips once again, even more color rushing to his cheeks.
I cross my legs and rest my hands on my ankles, looking over at his slightly irritated look. He really is a total dork. I’m listening, though. I owe it to him.
“It’s just…” I smile without meaning to, and rock back and forth a little. I’m not crying anymore. “It’s one of those days.”
“Yeah, I can tell.”
The rain’s pitter-patter on the car roof slows. We sit in silence for a few minutes, listening to the storm recede, listening to each other’s breathing. Finally, the sun patiently filters back in through the dirty windows of Floyd’s ramshackle car.
“Huh.” Floyd turns and puts his hand daintily on the glass, searching.
He looks back at me. “There’s no rainbow.”
I swallow my giggles. “Seriously?”
“Hey, I like rainbows, okay?”
I think for a moment, and then check my sweatshirt pockets and, who would’ve guessed, they survived. I pull out my packets of Skittles and throw one at him. “It’s not exactly a rainbow, but it’s close enough.”
“Yeah,” says Floyd, reddening a little again.
I pop a few into my mouth and feel the gush of juicy artificial sweetness cover my tongue. “You know, Skittles are my favorite.”
We sit here, in Floyd’s secluded backseat of his ratty car, next to the fields that lead to town and surrounded by the fresh post-storm air under the misty sunlight shining over the atmosphere and rundown hopeless planet, forced to reside in this cracked, dusty, ugly, fauna infested universe of ours. And for the first time in two whole years, I don’t feel as sickly, utterly alone.