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Dead Dude Talking
It’s funny how working at a movie theater lowers your standards for guys. Maybe it’s just me. My coworkers kind of got it going on, I guess. Just last week, my best friend Friday got a date with an Abercrombie and Fitch model. Though it was weird, since we don’t have an Abercrombie and Fitch in this part of Florida… He was handsome, with designer clothes and perfectly tousled hair but I suspected he was gay.
“Good evening, Janice.” Oh, and did I mention I had the same name as an old person on my street? Ugh. I turned around and there was Alex, my dude friend. He was a picture of nerdiness; Frizzy red hair, glasses, pale skin, and unbelievably skinny frame.
“Sup, Alex. Can you drive me home? Gotta pick up some hermit crabs for Kelly.” A couple came up and slapped down a twenty. I gave them two tickets and their real D glasses as they gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes and I gagged a little.
Alex rolled his eyes. “You give my dad half his business with that little animal. How many pets does she have already?” His voice was still changing, so it squeaked sometimes, which was hilarious and made us both laugh.
“Nine lizards, two cats, twenty seven goldfish, four Beagles, three canaries, two starfish, one chinchilla, four mice, and a grass snake.” I sighed. Kelly was seven but it was already apparent she would be a zoo worker. The inside of our house looked like Alex’s dad’s pet store, minus the clean countertops. I didn’t see how my Grandma hadn’t gone on an old person rampage yet. She would just gently pull a mouse out of her coffee cup and put it back on the floor.
Alex sat in the seat next to me and spun around a few times, his ancient Converse’s slapping the tiled floor. I gave him a warning glance and he shrugged. “Did you see the Slaves of Boston?”
“It sucked. Horrible acting, bad story line, and you know the killer the first three minutes.” I scooped my makeup into my purse.
“What about Tulip’s Row?”
“Too controversial of a plot. Everyone leaving said it was pretty good though. Dakota Fanning played a pretty good assassin.” I gave an elderly woman change for fifty and three tickets for her grandchildren, who ran around her screaming. The clock over the booth struck nine. The old fluorescent light above my head flickered as I stood up and went for the door.
“No,” Alex leaped up, lunging for the knob. “Lemme get that, m’lady.” Nerd.
“Thanks, bro.” I tipped the edge of his hat, playfully. I never saw the way he looked at me after I left; The way his eyes probably softened as I flicked the brim of his cheesy hat he insisted on wearing, even after I won the protest to our manager against them, claiming this wasn’t a fast food restaurant.
I climbed into Alex’s car, rearranging the collection of comic books scattered on the old upholstery of his Ford Bronco. “To the Bat Cave!” We shouted in unison. I should have noticed the casual way he put his arm around the back of my seat.
Alex liked to sing along with the radio as we drove around the small town of Sea Gull’s Cavern, which sounds more like a bar than a strip of land in southern Florida. “You know what I was thinking? I think I need a boyfriend. Am I seriously ugly? That’s what Jennifer Gray told me in the locker room last month.” I told Alex as I rolled the window down. After I said ‘ugly’ he veered off the road a bit. I didn’t think about it at the time.
“Janice…you are…very…pretty. Jennifer’s the ugly one. They should all envy you. You’re nice, and funny, and pretty, and smart, and down to earth. Jennifer’s too skinny.” Alex’s knuckles whitened in the glow of the Pete’s Pet Store sign.
Inside, Alex’s dad was friendly and every bit as nerdy as his son. He proudly displayed his hermit crabs in their glass habitat with their colorful shells.
“Want me to help you pick out some?”
“Sure.” Alex was already closely examining one with Spongebob on it’s shell. “This one appears to be healthy. May I recommend this one with the state of Texas on it’s shell?”
He smiled at me and laughed, making crossed eyes at him. He laughed too. If only I had realized he was the one, that balmy Wednsday June night in his dad’s pet store after our tired shift at the local theater. All the times we had laughed. All the times we had caused trouble during huge movie premieres (never shout ‘Hey, everybody! It’s Robert Pattinson!).
By the time I stood slumped up against the funeral home’s cool window four days later, it was too late. What had been an innocent grocery run had turned into a bloodbath at the local Flash Foods. Had I been there…what if I had said…why couldn’t it have been…me? I had walked by the casket only once to see his peaceful face, the little freckle he had on his nose, his death-white hands clasped over the front of his black suit. Then I had went to the window and stayed for an hour, not able to bear the wails from his mother.
Grandma waddled up behind me, her old fashioned black dress rustling and a single string of pearls around her slender neck. She placed a withered hand on my shoulder, gently nudging me away from the window, to the open casket at the far end of the room. I collapsed and everything was black.
I woke up in my room. My bed was an ocean of pillows, like always. I was nestled between a dolphin pillow and a cream colored one, still wearing the mourning dress I had bought the day before. My ratty hair was mussed by rolling around; my face smeared with eyeliner. The only boy who had told me I was beautiful…
Outside, the summer storm continued steadily, sending rivulets of water down the window of my room. My beta fished was at the bottom of his bowl, his violet streaked fins limp on the smooth aqua rocks. I sipped the open can of Coke on my nightstand and stroked one of the nameless beagles at my feet.
My cell phone buzzed on my bookshelf. I stood up and lumbered over to it with the enthusiasm of the terminally ill. It had to be another classmate who cared little to nothing of me or Alex or my well being.
I flipped it open and cleared my voice of choked back tears as I wiped my nose on the sleeve of my cardigan. “Hello?”
A squeaky/manly voice answered almost before I had spoken. “Hey, Janice. It’s me, Alex.”