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Authors: David Zimmerman

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BOOK: Caring Is Creepy
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At four-thirty, Logan showed. I’d about given up. He was shorter than I imagined, and wiry like the boys on the track team. I’d pictured him with a military buzz cut, but his hair came down below his ears. The only thing I didn’t like was a mole on his cheek that looked like John Boy’s from
The Waltons
. My mom liked to watch
The Waltons
on cable, and whenever John Boy’s mole came on the screen, it always made me leave the room. The one on Logan’s cheek wasn’t quite as big, but you definitely noticed it. He held a blue box in his hand wrapped with a white ribbon. Something went suddenly wrong with my inner organs, and I thought I might have to make a dash to the restroom, but I didn’t.

I kept walking toward him until he saw me and waved. We were still too far apart to say anything and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I forgot what I usually did with my hands when I walked. Did I usually swing my arms or hold them by my sides? I couldn’t keep looking him in the eye that long. I waved and looked down. My face felt like melting wax.

I thought he would shake my hand when we met, but he hugged me instead. It surprised me, but I liked it. All of my inner organs really went into overdrive then, churning and squirming and making dangerous noises. I wanted to say something clever or funny, but my head was an empty egg. I felt all thin shell.

“Hey,” he said. “Sorry I’m late.”

“Okay,” I said, immediately thinking, Why did I say that? What
the hell does that mean? Okay? Dani would laugh if she heard me. He must think I’m retarded and I’ve only said one word!

“You want to walk around?”

“Okay.” It was all I seemed able to say right then. Maybe if I concentrated really hard, I could add one more word to my vocabulary. Like
sure
or
great
.

He took my hand, which probably felt like pickled pig’s knuckles, and we walked along the outer path. The flies buzzed very loud at that moment, and although the sky was the color of skim milk, the sun shone so brightly I could barely see. He talked. He said I looked better than he imagined, older. He liked my hair and my polka-dot dress. He told me he’d had some problems leaving the base. Literally five minutes before he planned to leave, his asshole sergeant assigned him to do something really big that afternoon. I can’t remember what. See, Logan’s presence took up so much of my attention I could barely hear what he said. I do remember he asked me if I listened to the Shins a lot. For a long moment, I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.

He hummed a song.

“Oh,” I said after a moment, “right, yeah, the band. I only really know the songs from that movie soundtrack. My friend plays it a lot. I do like the creepy caring song, though.”

Logan laughed.

A bus of nursery school kids unloaded at the visitor center and the gardens filled up with screaming children. It seemed oddly late in the afternoon for them to be there. Everything in the garden suddenly felt bigger and louder and brighter than normal. My voice warbled when I talked. I told him I liked his red shirt, but I hadn’t really looked at it. His eyes changed color when we left the slanting afternoon light and walked in the shadows under the trees. He had very white teeth. His lips were thick but not too thick. Full, I think is the word. He said a lot of things. Things I can’t
remember now. I could barely concentrate on walking. I forgot how to do the most basic things, like breathe and talk. We circled the garden three or four times before he gave me the package. By then I’d forgotten he had anything with him at all. The package was small, about half the size of a CD case but thicker, and it felt light when he put it in my hands.

“What’s this?” I said. The package made me even more nervous than I was before.

“Open it.” He smiled and his teeth looked very bright in the sunlight, like polished bits of stone.

I took off the paper carefully, peeling the tape back instead of tearing it, as though I meant to reuse it and not just chuck it in a trash bin like I did. This was something that irritated me to no end when my mom did it, and there I was doing it too. The box inside had a gold foil sticker that said,
LEVY’S JEWELRY
, in raised, bumpy letters. He watched my face very closely and this made it even harder for me to use my hands like a normal human. Lying inside on a mattress of white velvet was a thin gold bracelet with a charm shaped like a puppy.

“See these little loops?” He pointed with his pinkie, as though the gold was so delicate a larger finger might wreck it. “You can add more charms later on if you feel like it. I didn’t know what kind of animals you liked. This guy’s smiling, which I thought was pretty good. The penguin looked mad or …” Logan seemed to run out of words there. He smiled an apology. Without even thinking, I grabbed his wrist and squeezed it once before realizing and yanking away.

“Thank you,” I said. My tongue seemed to fill up my entire mouth and spill out over my lips. At least that’s how it felt. I could hardly get the words out around it.

He took the bracelet and draped it over my wrist. It was hard not to shake as he fixed the clasp. I made a fist to keep my fingers
together, but my hand still trembled. In the bright sunlight, the bracelet looked like a squirt of burning lighter fluid on my wrist. Once he got the bracelet on, he leaned over and kissed the inside of my wrist. It surprised me so much I almost pulled my arm away again. A couple of little boys ran past us yelling, chased by a girl in pink shorts waving a branch as long as she was. Logan gave me a serious look and took my face in his hands and kissed me on the lips. He didn’t open his mouth when he did it. He just pressed his lips against mine, like a kiss in a black-and-white movie. Logan had a nice, soapy smell. But hiding right beneath was something spicy and sharp that reminded me of nutmeg. It was the kind of smell to fill your belly with raw blue swirls of electric current. And his lips left behind a clean, mint taste.

“I know it ain’t much,” he said, holding my wrist with both hands and tapping the bracelet with his thumbs, “but I wanted to bring you something.”

Boone’s Farm

L
ogan had an old, mint-green Grand Marquis. The backseat was big enough to hold my bike, but we put it in the trunk. An Army duffle bag rode shotgun with the seat belt holding it in place. He tossed it in the back and helped me into the car. I wondered about the bag but didn’t say anything. The air conditioner was broken—he apologized for this three times—so we put the windows down. Something was wrong with the automatic window on my side. He had to get back out and yank on it a few times to make it come down even halfway. He told me his father had given him the car when he joined the Army, and he tried to take care of it as best he could, but it was old and there was always something that needed to be repaired. While he was over in Iraq, his ex-fiancée drove it. She hadn’t thought to change the oil once in an entire year, and this had added to its sorry decline. Even I would of known to do that.

Logan turned left on Lewis and we drove through Metter, crossing over the interstate and going a ways out into the country toward Cobbtown. The cotton fields along the road were dark green and powdered with orange dust. The bolls themselves had only barely begun to burst into white. I leaned back in the seat and watched the neat red rows of clay flicker past between the lines of cotton plants. I gave up my head to happy, empty looking. The sun-baked air blew my hair out straight behind my head. We topped a small rise, and on the other side, the hard sunlight
of the cotton fields ended and the swaying, speckled shade of the pine tree farms began. Tall, straight trees rose up on either side, darkening the asphalt and filling the car with the sticky, medicine smell of rising sap. We passed the rusty ruins of the old turpentine factory. A donkey and a cow chewed grass in the building’s blue shadow. I threw them a wave, but neither one bothered to look. The clover in their pasture must have been juicy and sweet. All their wishes had been granted. They had no need of me and my cheerful teenage waves.

“Where are we going?” Logan had to shout because the wind roared in through the windows. Even with the air fluttering my hair here and there and keeping it up off my neck, the car was still hot. Sweat puddled up under my legs, so they stuck to the vinyl seat, and a dribble dripped down the middle of my back.

“I don’t care,” I said.

“Okay,” he said. And then, after a couple of seconds, “I’m not going back.”

“What?” I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right. At first I thought he meant Metter and I wondered briefly if he meant to kidnap me. The idea didn’t bother me much. It sent another zing of electricity through my frazzled nerve endings. No Metter High for me next week.

“I wish I didn’t have to go back to Hunter. I can’t stand it there. I hate it worse than anything I’ve ever hated. And the idea of going back to Iraq—it just—” He banged his fist on the outside of the door. It made a hollow thump. “I don’t think I can do it.”

“What would you do instead?”

“I don’t know. But I’m sick to death of the Army. I did my bit. Nobody can say I’m not patriotic. There’s plenty of other assholes who could go instead of me.”

We were quiet then, thinking about this. We drove past Dean Martin Taxidermy with its huge
JESUS SAVES
sign and pasture out in front. A couple of fat black sheep leaned together back to back, so
still in the shade of a cypress tree they looked like great big rocks. I wanted a cigarette. We passed the little gas station at the edge of Cobbtown and I wondered if I should ask him to stop and buy me a pack. Logan beat me to the thought.

“Do you drink wine?” he said.

“Yeah,” I said.

“I think some cold wine would be good.”

There were no cars coming, so he made a U-turn in the road and drove back to the gas station. It was a little cinder-block box with peeling white paint and a window made of glass bricks. On one side of the gas station, a row of pecan trees kept the service island shady, and over past the trees, two tireless rust heaps were parked forever in a patch of jimsonweed and buttercups.

“Mind going in the store for me? I’ll give you the money. I don’t really like crowded little places like this.”

The store looked empty.

“Logan, the problem is they know me here. I ain’t twenty-one.” I asked him to buy me a pack of cigarettes, rummaging in my purse for bills. He waved them away. I watched the muscles in his back flex and relax as he walked into the store. They looked hard and well kept. Just then, I wanted more than anything to touch them.

A few minutes later, Mr. Jenkins, the owner of the hardware store in town, pulled up next to Logan’s car. I tried to slink down in the seat, but he saw me.

“How you doing, Lynn?” he said. Mr. Jenkins was just this side of fat and his T-shirt was a little too small, so you could see a bare strip of white belly above his belt.

“Alright, Mr. Jenkins,” I said.

“Last Friday before school starts, huh?” He smiled that superior little smile adults always use when they’re talking to teenagers about school. Like,
hah, I don’t have to do that shit anymore, but you sure do
. “Who you out motoring with?”

I treated him to one of my sweet girlish smiles, dialed down a notch or three. My little-girl-on-the-way-to-Sunday-school smile. “My cousin Logan,” I said. “He’s stationed down in Savannah and he came to visit us for the afternoon.”

He looked me over for a moment, squinting. “My little brother Jeffrey is stationed down there. You remember Jeffrey, don’t you? I wonder if your cousin knows him. What’d you say his name is again?”

“He might,” I said.

Before I could say Logan’s name again, the bell on the door clanged. I sucked in a breath between my teeth. He came out of the store toting two white plastic bags. Bottles bulged against the sides and Mr. Jenkins looked at them.

“Your cousin here tells me you’re stationed down at Hunter.”

“Yes, sir,” Logan said, his back going all stiff and soldierly. I couldn’t help but smile at this transformation.

“Maybe you know my brother, Sergeant Jenkins?”

“I don’t, sir. But Hunter is a big base.”

“That’s true,” Mr. Jenkins said. “What was your name again, son?”

“Charlie Davidson, sir.”

Mr. Jenkins squinted hard at me then, and it wasn’t nervousness that made me think he was suspicious this time. “Your cousin told me your name was Logan.”

That little shit, I thought. Why’d he ask Logan what his name was if he remembered?

Logan smiled. It looked like a perfectly natural smile. I was impressed. “That’s what my family calls me, sir. It’s my middle name.”

“Well,” Mr. Jenkins said, “I would tell you to tell my brother I said hey, but since you don’t know him—”

“If I ever meet him, I’ll tell him, sir.”

“You all have a nice day.” He looked down at the bag of wine bottles again and then over at me, raising an eyebrow. “Be careful now.”

Logan started the engine and pulled out with a spray of gravel. His eyes were dark. “If he says anything to his brother, I’m fucked. He’ll know in a second who I am and that I was off base without permission.”

“You know his brother?” This seemed an impossible coincidence, and an awful one.

“My sergeant. The one who made me late meeting you. He thinks he’s some kind of hardass but he’s really just a pissy little REMF.”

“REMF?”

“Rear Echelon Mother Fucker. Means those guys that stay behind the wire where it’s safe. Or in his case, at home.”

“Is this going to get you in more trouble?” I said.

“I’m in trouble no matter what,” he said. “Now it might just come a little quicker.”

“I don’t think he’ll say anything. He’s probably already forgotten about it.”

“Probably not, but still—”

“Don’t worry about it now.” I touched him on the arm with one finger.

“Nah,” he said, pointing to the sky, “you’re right. On a day like this? I’ll worry about it tonight.”

When we got back on the highway, he gunned the engine and we flew across the countryside like a big green buzzard.

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BOOK: Caring Is Creepy
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