Authors: Dana Elmendorf
Tags: #Young Adult Fiction, #Lgbt, #Social Themes, #Friendship
“Does my hair look all right?” I ask Van, who’s down under the counter gathering the movies from the drop box. “I tried to make it look effortless, wavy at the ends like I just came from the beach. It’s the best I could do with the rain.”
“How long did it take you to do that?” He stands with an armful of DVDs.
I yawn huge. “Like two hours.”
His mouth makes an O when he sees me. “Um, she’s not going to be looking at your hair with a shirt like that.”
I tug at my T-shirt. “Too green?”
“I just washed it. Should I go home and change?” I’m scrunching and pulling at the front. Van swats my hand.
“Leave it alone or you’ll make it all wrinkled. Nobody likes wrinkled boobies” He stretches the shirt out all over with even pulls to keep it from clinging so much. “Better.” He gives me a big ole shit-eating grin.
“You want me to pose for a picture or what?” I shove him out of my face, blushing. Another yawn escapes.
“Why are you so tired?”
“Friday night, I stayed up till two talking to Bren.” I gloat and beam. Of course it was forever before I fell asleep. “Last night, Sarabeth had me up just as late, finalizing plans and organizing the supplies for the float.” I wanted so bad to tell her I had a date with Bren, but I couldn’t be certain how she’d react.
Van scrutinizes me. “That explains the eye luggage.”
“Great. Hopefully Bren will be so focused on my tight tee, she won’t notice my carry-on.”
“Don’t worry, you’re still an adorable tart. What are we going to do?” he asks as we plop down on the couch.
“I told her we’d be watching a Johnny D marathon.”
Van gives me the stink eye.
“I shouldn’t have to suffer this alone.” I pick fuzz off the pillow. “Besides, it’s raining and more than half the town is at the tent revival in the Wal-Mart parking lot.”
For one week every year, the five biggest Baptist churches in Sunshine convene in one place. It’s a good old soul cleansing and parishioner recruiting day. Anyone who doesn’t want to go to hell will be there. Of course the catfish fry and baked goods sale also bring in the sinners. Needless to say, it makes for a very empty video store.
The front door bells chime. Long and Tall walks through the door. Bren shakes the raindrops from her hair and finger-combs it back again. Dots of rain wet her kelly-green V-neck tee. Preppy-fit white shorts make her long tan legs even longer. I love the chunky white Michael Kors watch she wears; diamonds crust the rim.
She is so not dressed to be shooting tin cans off a fence post.
When she smiles at the sight of me, it’s one of those mouth half-open, half-closed kind of smiles. I smile back. Inside my stomach has its own cheer section and right now it’s doing the wave.
Unconsciously, Bren adjusts her watch on her wrist like it’s a nervous tick. “What’s going on, guys?” She towers over us.
“Not much,” I say, trying not to sound so bubbly. Van and I scoot to one side, and I pat the empty spot next to me. It’s never occurred to me how low this couch is until Bren sits. Her knees stick up higher than the cushions.
Bren points to the sixty-inch screen behind the counter. “That flat screen—”
“Rocks.” I complete for her. She nods in agreement.
“Are we really doing a Depp marathon?” Bren asks.
“Yeah, are we?” I plead to Van with my best puppy-dog eyes for mercy.
“A double feature at first, then I’ll let you know how I’m feeling.”
I whisper to Bren. “Don’t worry, he fast-forwards a lot.”
Van aims the remote. We could watch every Johnny Depp movie from now until the cows come home, and I’d be fine with it as long as it meant being next to Bren.
Van snuggles down into the couch. “This one is my favorite. More of a cult classic than a blockbuster.” The doo-wop song starts, and the title flashes
Fifties-clad students line up to get their immunization shots at school. All the classic characters are identified, preppies vs. greasers. Johnny Depp emerges, kicking and fighting as he protests getting a shot. My jaw drops when I get a good look at Cry-Baby’s hair.
On the sly, I cock my head toward Van to see if he’s thinking the same thing I am. His eyes flash at me, wild with awareness. I mouth,
“Say Bren—” Van starts, but my elbow to his ribs interrupts him.
“Huh?” she asks.
“Have you ever noticed—”
“You want some popcorn?” I sit up.
“—that you and Cry-Baby have the same hair,” he finishes.
I palm my face and burrow into the couch cushions. He did not just say that out loud.
“No,” I say. Even though I know it kind of does. “See?” I finger her soft hair. “It’s not all greasy and slick. Her hair is gorgeous.” My touch releases the ocean. She smiles at me. The urge to smell my hand gnaws at me. I bury my possessed hands under my thighs.
Van has the dang TV paused now, pointing at it. “Except you don’t have that piece hanging over your forehead. But you do have that whole bump ‘n’ swoop thing in the front working for you.” His hand waves a demonstration.
I close my eyes and pray for the analyzing of Bren’s hair to be over. “Stop, Van. You’re embarrassing me.”
“What? I’m just saying …”
The couch shakes from Bren’s laughter. “Hey.” She pats my leg and leans over to my ear. “Don’t worry, I’m not sweating it. He’s just jealous he doesn’t have ‘The Do.’” The touch of her hand on my bare leg echoes throughout my body. I huff a laugh. She slumps into the couch at an angle, smug and content. Her hand stays in that undecided zone, not quite on my knee but more next to it, as if she hasn’t committed either way.
Van is in his own world, pausing the movie at different scenes and breaking down the anatomy of Cry-Baby’s hair. He posts side-by-side pictures of Bren and Cry-Baby on Instagram. My mortification grows.
“How do you make it do that?” Van just keeps on going. “Is it a natural cowlick or something? Or do you use product?”
“Van, you’re killing the movie here. Let’s just watch it,” I say. He presses play.
I’m trying to look at ease, but my body refuses to relax. Bren’s pinky finger nudges my knee. I risk a glance. Bren cuts a look over to me, a small smile lights her eyes. Now I wish Van wasn’t here.
My other knee bobs up and down as I keep checking the door for customers, ready to pop up for a bathroom break if someone comes in. When I force myself to stop checking the door, I kind of chill out a bit. The drizzle of rain and gray sky outside helps. I lean into Bren’s shoulder to anchor my nerves. She reciprocates. Her height and my lack thereof curve us together with a snug fit.
Clap! I startle upright.
“Wake up. Let’s do something,” Van declares. For a second, I’m disoriented. Van stands before me, cupping his hands together. Behind him the credits roll. “We haven’t had a single customer. With the revival going all day, I doubt we will.”
I’m still trying to orient myself when I spy a wet spot on Bren’s shoulder, and my hand goes to my mouth
Nice one, Kaycee.
“Did you drool on her?” Van is anything but tactful.
“Vander.” I rub my hand over my face. Not only am I jumpy as a cricket, but I’ve slimed her. Bren’s not asleep, but one more JD movie and she’d be out too. I yawn and stretch. “What do you want to do? It’s raining.” Another yawn.
Bren rallies herself. “Let’s do something local.”
“Well, yeah,” Van says. “I’m not driving anywhere in this rain.”
“No. I mean something fun you guys do that I’ve probably never experienced. Like cow tipping.”
Van rolls his eyes. “Nobody cow tips, Bren. They only do that in the movies.”
“Chuck the Buck does it.” I remind him.
“Chuck the Buck is dumb as a box of rocks,” says Van.
I can’t imagine a girl who’s been to Zimbabwe, Cuba, and God only knows where else, finding anything we do in Sunshine fun.
Van starts to shut things down in the store even though it’s only three in the afternoon. “We could get my dad’s truck and go mudding,” Van offers. I give him a flat no. “What about Skeater’s Skates?”
“Sounds … scuzzy?” Bren’s astute observation is correct.
“It is,” I say “It’s this disgusting old roller rink where we skated as kids, but the rednecks took it over. Unless we want to risk getting our asses kicked, I say no.”
“Where’s your bathroom?” Bren walks toward curtain number two.
“No!” Van and I holler at the same time. “That’s the porn closet,” I say. “Go over there.” She goes where I direct her with a very wary look on her face. “I’ll explain later,” is all I offer.
“Cuddle city up in here,” Van sings once Bren has disappeared to the back.
“Shut up, Vander.” But I’m grinning from ear to ear.
“Bowlerama? Arcade? Lawn darts?” Van suggests.
“Lame. Juvenile. And, hello, it’s raining,” I say.
Van thinks a moment, then he gets that look in his eye. “I know. Let’s play Cat and Mouse.”
Bren returns from the bathroom, ready to go. “I have no clue what Cat and Mouse is, but I’m game.”
“Oh yeah.” I’m up on my feet, fetching my cell phone from my pocket. “I’ll call Sarabeth. And have her call Chuck. You call the M&M twins.” While I’m dialing, Van rushes to shut down the store.
I look Bren dead in the eyes. “Oh, you just wait. You haven’t lived until you’ve played Cat and Mouse.”
Van nods in agreement. He flips off the lights. In the dark, my smile fades. Oh God, I’m actually doing this and there’s no backing out now. What if someone sees us? I hope Bren doesn’t expect any kind of touchiness in front of the others. What have you gotten yourself into Kaycee Jean McCoy? Van locks the doors to the video store.
Rain cascades down in sheets off the car wash’s roof, creating a curtain of water. “You see,” I say to Bren, “the beauty of hiding in the car wash is no one expects you to park in an exposed stall. But they forget the car wash doesn’t have gutters, and on rainy days, you get the perfect cover.”
Bren nods, impressed. The three of us are cramped together in the bench-seat of Van’s 1969 frost green Chevy Nova, restored by his father’s handiwork. I am very aware of everything that is Bren. Soft arms, beachy scent, and her hand that has taken up a little more space on my knee.
“So, we just sit here … and wait?” She’s lost her enthusiasm from earlier.
“Trust me.” I waggle my eyebrows. “We won’t be waiting for long.”
“Meeeeoooow.” The CB radio crackles. “Big Kitty’s ready for some dinner. Who wants to be lunch? Over,” Chuck calls out to us mice.
Van snatches up the mic, but before he can speak, Sarabeth replies. “Bubblegum and Camp Counselor Drew are ready and raring to go. Ten-four.”
“We’re using CBs, not cell phones?” Bren whispers to me.
“Bren, honey,” Van says, “we need to hear where everybody is so we can know if Chuck’s getting close. Besides, you don’t get cool handles on the phone.”
“Carolina Hot-pants here.” Misty calls out. “I’m sitting back and munching on some cheese. Copy that?”
“Ooh, Misty must have a good hiding spot,” says Van.
Bren frowns so I explain, “She’s telling us she has all the time in the word if she’s sitting back having lunch.”
“The Snooki Bandit is tucking out of sight as we speak. Hey, jerk.” We hear a horn honk. “Save some room on the road for me. Sorry, guys,” Melissa says. “Copy and over and out and all that.” Static keys through the mic.
Van triggers his mic. “Copy that, Big Kitty. Mad Hatter, Pixy Stix and …” Van pauses, puts the CB to his chest. “Who do you want to be Bren?” he whispers.
She shrugs and looks at me. “Boston B-ball?” she suggests.
“Uh-uh.” I look at Van. “Long and Tall.” He’s nodding an “oh yeah” with me.
“And Long and Tall are snug as a bug in a rug. Copy that?”
All the mice call in one at a time with vague hints to where they are. Bubblegum sees water. It’s a trick clue with all this rain. “I bet Sarabeth is over by the water tower,” I say to Van. He nods in agreement.
Rain pounds the corrugated tin roof of the car wash. “It’s loud in the barn,” is the clue Van offers.
While the others give their clues, Bren asks, “What’s up with the ‘Camp Counselor Drew’ handle? It sounds creepy.”
Van wrinkles his nose. “It is. The first summer Sarabeth and Andrew met, they hooked up at Football & Cheer camp. I suggested he use Mr. Heisman or QB on the SB—Sarabeth Beaudroux.” Van glances sideways and snickers.
“Vander, you’re such a sleaze.” I shove him.
“I see me some gravel,” Carolina Hot-pants calls. Van grabs up the mic and chats in code to the other mice, teasing Big Kitty.
Bren squeezes my knee. “Pixy Stix?”
My cheeks blush. “Van picked it. He says I’m so sweet, I give everybody a toothache,” I say in my best doofus voice. “Cliché, right?”
“Much better than Long and Tall. Sounds like one of those cheesy cocktails with an umbrella and a chunk of fruit,” she teases me.
“Uh,” I mock offense. “You don’t like it? Cause Boston B-ball is so much better. Besides, your legs are pretty awesome.”
“Thanks.” Bren smiles and looks down at my hand—which happened to be wrapped around her arm. “I like you getting comfortable around me.” Her eyes scan my face, linger on my lips.
“Me too.” It’s barely a whisper. I try not to let my eyes stray to her lips, but they can’t help themselves. She has the perfect amount of plump and pucker to model her lips in a
ad. Bet they’re soft too.
Headlights flicker past the other side of our veil of water. Chuck’s big ole four-by-four zips past the front of the car wash. Brake lights flash. His tires squeal to a halt.
“Go, go, go, go, go!” I smack the dashboard. Van throws the Nova in reverse at the same time Chuck does. We whip out the back side of the car wash with a Hollywood spin. When Van floors it, I latch on to Bren’s arm, tighter than tree bark. She clamps down on my knee.
“Go left down Maple Street. Quick.” I yell. Seatbelts click. I look over my shoulder. Chuck’s roll-bar lights snap on. His truck tips a tad as he takes the turn too fast.
“Aren’t we found?” asks Bren, confused by our running.