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Authors: David Zimmerman

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BOOK: Caring Is Creepy
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“Make a date to meet here again. Tomorrow evening,” Dani said, hopping up and down on one foot and squeezing her earlobes. She’d been wearing her chunky, painfully heavy turquoise earrings all afternoon.

I asked and he agreed. Dani let out a shriek. I’ll admit to feeling more and more excited each time this business with L.L. went another step further. He wanted to know my e-mail address. Dani and me looked at each other. We used Wynn’s e-mail address every time we set up fake accounts, and one day we’d even used it when we ordered shoes with Dani’s mother’s Visa card while she was out shopping at the Piggly Wiggly. At the time it seemed funny. We imagined Wynn getting all these sexy or angry e-mails from guys we’d flirted with and then devastated in
The Big Green Bus
. It was Dani’s stated policy to never give out our real e-mail addresses to people we met online. But we weren’t officially playing The Game, and then there was also the fact I’d already told him my real name and hometown.

“Tell him you’ll give it to him tomorrow if he meets you, and then we can go ahead and make a new one now. Just in case he’s a freak,” Dani said.

Logan told me he was about to go on-duty and he looked forward to messaging with me the next day. And that was it.

“On-duty?” I asked her. “What do you think that means?”

“Maybe he’s a lifeguard. Who cares?” Dani shrugged. “You have an electronic date. You have an electronic date,” she sang, giving me a giant hug and dancing me around in a circle. She smelled like fabric softener and fresh hair spray.

“You make him sound like a robot.”

And that’s how the serious fun ended and the serious trouble began. Sounds innocent enough, huh?

A Swallowed But

“I
’ll talk to him about it,” Mom said. Twin clouds of smoke gushed out of her nose. She crushed out her cigarette after taking two drags and rubbed her eyes with the heels of her palms. I hadn’t seen her in two days and this seemed important.

“That’s it?” I asked.

“What do you want me to do, sweetie?”

“Mom, he was sucking on pills and then crunching them up with grandma’s old pestle. You don’t think that’s a little—” I grimaced. “—odd?”

I set down the plate of toast and poached eggs—barely cooked and wobbly with warm, raw yolk, just the way she liked them—and handed her a fork. She broke off the corner of her toast and dabbed it in the bright gold yolk several times until it popped and oozed.

“Just let me sit here a while and relax before you start hammering at me with all this.” She took another bite of toast. “I think you need a new pair of school shoes. There’s a sale going on over at the J. C. Penney in Statesboro.”

“Mom, why aren’t you taking this seriously?”

“I saw a real cute pair of sandals I think you’d like. But then they probably wouldn’t do for when it gets cool. If the sale’s good, maybe we could get you a couple—”

“I think you should break up with him.”

She dropped her fork and folded her arms across her chest. The only sound in the room was the faucet
drip-drip-dripping
.

“How about this, Lynn? You just attend to your business and let me handle my own affairs. The way I see it, this has nothing to do with you and I don’t appreciate taking romantic advice from a pimply teenage girl.”

Almost without meaning to, my fingers found the zit above my eyebrow.

Mom slapped the table, making the saltshaker bounce and fall over.

“You hear?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. And swallowed the
but
I wanted to add.

The Dreamiest Arms in
People Magazine

M
y dream man was pasted on a piece of blue construction paper. His hair was blond and swept back to the right. Dani cut it out jaggedly and so it looked more like a scare wig than real hair. He had the face of a hero from a recent action movie, but the eyes had been colored in blue with a marker. The arms were too long for the body and stuck out at odd angles as though he’d fallen from a great height and broken several bones. His muscles bulged under an Old Navy T-shirt and something else bulged under a skin-tight pair of Calvin Klein underpants. For some reason, she’d also given him shiny, black, tasseled loafers she’d cut out and glued on top of his bare feet.

“His name’s Dylan,” Dani told me when she gave him to me. “Or should I say Logan?”

I rolled my eyes to heaven.

“Don’t pout. It makes you look—”

I did not want to know what it made me look like. “He’s got nice arms,” I said, just to say something.

“They’re what’s-his-name’s arms … uh … the drummer from that band you like.”

“Oh, yeah, I can see the tip of the drumstick in his hand.”

“I’ve put a lot of thought into this, Lynn. I used the stats from the talk you and Logan had the other day,” Dani said. “And now maybe you found the real him. The real dream man, I mean.”

“Yeah,” I said, “maybe.”

Cats and Dogs

I
t took a few days for Hayes to return the mortar and pestle. When he came, I was in the bathroom scrubbing the ring of soap scum off the bathtub, so I didn’t hear the door. Mom never seemed to notice this brown ring of sticky muck, but I got tired of watching it grow each morning. I noticed a dark blob of shadow slide across the tile floor. But when I turned around, no one was there. I took off my rubber kitchen gloves and set them on the edge of the tub.

First, I noticed the mortar and pestle sitting on Mom’s vanity table. It took me a moment to hear the scraping sound on the other side of the bed. I stepped around to see what was making it, and there was Hayes picking through the carpet on his hands and knees.

“Hey, dorko,” I shouted, making him jerk up and hit his head on the corner of the dresser, “you drop your brain?”

“Ha, ha,” Hayes said, rubbing the back of his head. He looked pasty-faced and agitated. “Ha. Say, Little Flipper, I might of mislaid something important here the other day. A white plastic package wrapped in duct tape about yea big?” He stretched out his hands the length of a cat’s tail. “I was hoping maybe … actually, come to think on it, it might could be in a clear Ziploc bag. Anyway, I remember I put it in a safe place and now it’s, well, too safe. But it’s, umm, very—”

“Important?” I said, enjoying this way too much.

“Yeah.” He smiled and rocked from heel to toe on his beat-up
old cowboy boots, looking very pleased to see I understood. “Very. Man, Flipper, man, I can’t thank you—”

“Nope.” I edged forward a little. “Haven’t seen anything like that. I would of noticed too.”

“No, really, no fooling now,” Hayes said, his eyes shiny with something that looked awful close to real tears. “You got to understand. I’m serious as shit here. I mean, this is important. To me. Shit. Fuck. I got to—damn it—”

“Finish making your pill flour?”

His eyes darted here and there, scanning the carpet. “If I hadn’t of lost that package, it wouldn’t of needed doing. And now I’m all out of—” He gave me a crafty look, the type he invented when he thought he was getting one over on me. This belief in his own sneakiness appeared to cheer him a good bit.

“What was that stuff you were making?” I asked.

Hayes explained the pills were some type of hormones for dogs. Dog relaxers, he called them. All the while, he kept picking up bits of lint, lost buttons, and even an unpopped popcorn kernel, holding them up to the light and then chucking them over his shoulder.

“So why were you sucking on them? Aren’t you worried you’ll start growing fur and some sort of weird dog muscles?”

“It’s the easiest way to get the coating off, so I can crush them. If you’re careful, they don’t even get all that wet. You just brush them off with your shirt and then you’re good to go.” Hayes gnawed on his thumb for a second before deciding to pull the dresser out a few inches. This was work that required grunting. Whatever he was looking for, it didn’t seem to be back there. He left the dresser pulled back from the wall and moved on to the vanity.

It still sounded hinky to me. But I knew Hayes really did breed dogs. Under normal circumstances, that’s about all he wanted to talk about. He trained rat terriers. Mom said he actually fought them against rats.

“Looky here,” I said, bending over and snatching one of his dog pills off the carpet under the vanity.

Hayes slid over the bed with both hands out. His eyes got big and hungry. I closed my hand around the pill and stepped back. He made a swipe at it, but I jumped away.

“Come on now, Flipper. Give it here!”

“That ain’t no way to behave. Calm down, Mr. Grabby Hands.”

I opened my hand and looked at his pill. A dull green thing about the size of an Advil with the number 80 pressed into one side. I cupped both hands around it and shook it like a pair of dice. Hayes’s eyes followed every movement of my hands. He smiled, but it looked like it took a lot of work to get those lip muscles curling. As I was about to sit down on the bed beside him, he grabbed my wrist and tried to pry open my hand.

“Ow!” I shrieked. “Stop, you asshole. You’re hurting me.” I kicked him on the shin as hard as I could and his grip loosened long enough for me to slip away. I was out the door and into the bathroom in a flash. The lock clicked into place barely a second before his hand shook the knob.

“Sorry about that, Flipper. I didn’t mean to hurt you,” Hayes said through the door crack. “It’s only I need it back. It’s kind of important.”

The bathroom door had one of those easy-to-pick locks. The kind you can open with a bobby pin. I didn’t have much time before he’d get in.

“Please, Flipper. Just give me the pill.”

“You had a whole mess of them the other day. Why you need this one pill so bad?”

“I told you, I hid the main bunch real good and I seem to of forgot where. Either that or the trash man got it when he carted off the sofa on my lawn. I might could of tucked them there for safekeeping. I don’t know. Anyway, those you saw were set aside for
something else. Then when I lost the big stash, I had to crush the set-aside ones for the buyer along with a bit of baking soda to fill out the bag some. You know, for it to look like a respectable count. But it weren’t hardly enough pill and too much soda besides. I need more pills. Way it stands now, that shit ain’t fit for nothing. Believe you me, I tried.”


You
tried? You ate some of the dog drugs yourself?”

“On a dog. He ate it. Didn’t much like it as far I could tell. Barked all night.” Hayes poked at the lock with something metallic.

“You bust in on me, Hayes, and I’ll flush it. I swear I will.”

The scratching stopped. Hayes thought so hard, I could hear his last five brain cells overheating on the other side of the door. They made the same sound my mom’s transmission did when it was on the fritz. I rubbed my thumbnail up and down the edge of the jamb.

“You hear that, Hayes? It’s your pill. It seems to want to take a swim. Tell me the truth now.”

Hayes took a breath, held it for two or three toe taps, then let it out with a defeated grumble. The pills, according to him, were really to dope the dogs, so they would lose their fights after he bet against them. If he crushed the pills, it made it easier to slip the stuff into a poor dog’s water bowl. Somebody had offered him big bucks for a bunch of these pills.

“God,” I said, “and you lost them. Maybe it’s for the best. Seems like a low-down business.”

“Yeah, well. If you ain’t noticed, I’m a little short on folding money these days.” He sighed. “The drugs don’t hurt them none. The dogs, I mean.”

This story, I figured, was just sleazy enough to be true. I pushed the pill out through the crack under the door. His plan seemed to me a mite too clever to of started its life in Hayes’s itty-bitty brain. The number of normal brains in his circle of pals numbered
exactly zero. I hope you know what you’re doing, Mom, I thought. If it
was
you who put this idea in his head.

“There,” I said, “give this to your dogs with my compliments.”

“God bless you, Flipper.”

Sweet Talk

T
hat night, we found out Logan was in the Army. And that his name was Logan. (“Logan?” Dani asked me. “Isn’t that a kind of berry?”) He was stationed at Hunter Army Airfield and worked in a huge hangar where they trained him to fix helicopter rotors. That’s what the on-duty comment meant. I told him I was fifteen, even though Dani told me I should lie and tell him I was eighteen, and he didn’t seem to care all that much. He wrote age was unimportant if two people got along.

“Very true,” Dani said. “If it wasn’t for his blond hair, I’d think he might be my type.”

Dani pressed me to ask more questions, and to do it faster. She’d had trouble with the computer that afternoon and been forced to call Wynn and ask him to come over and fix it, and now she was afraid it could go out again at any moment. But I didn’t want to rush. I liked the rhythm of how we were talking. Almost right from the start, all of it was romantic. Not romantic as in, I-can’t-wait-to-hold-you-in-my-arms kind of talk. It just seemed like everything we discussed always came back around to relationships. An exchange would begin with him talking about his car and how old and crappy it was (Dani was already planning for him to come get us and take us out on the town in Savannah, so one of the first things she had me ask him was if he had a car), and then a couple of messages later he explained how he got his first real kiss in that very car back when it was still his dad’s. Dani wanted me to ask him
if he used his tongue the first time, but I wouldn’t do it. “I bet you he didn’t,” she kept saying.

When I asked him why he joined the Army, he said it was because he’d been so mad about the towers getting blown up, but then a little later he admitted it was also because he wanted to go to college and didn’t have the tuition money. The Army promised to help pay his way. Later, Logan told me he always said that bit about the towers when he first met someone because it sounded better. The more he told me about his reasons for signing up, the more complicated they got. A lot of it seemed to have to do with his father and his hero brother. Logan said he’d already been on one tour in Iraq, and almost as soon as he got home, the Army told him he’d have to go back for a second one.

BOOK: Caring Is Creepy
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