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Chapter 7
Buford's Big Bad Breakthrough

Chapter 7.A


The results would come in two weeks. But the answers would come much later. In the meantime, my roommate and I took trips at night along the road near the lake, riding bikes in the dark and wishing we could find a party or some reason to buy alcohol.

We talked about Lil and her family. We talked about him and his family. When he asked why I never paid attention I said I was distracted by something or other and he rode on ahead of me. I mouthed the words and recited the news in my skull times over and thought about how great it would be if this all was a life lesson I was being threatened by, instead of faced with.

I eventually caught up with him and we looked at the blue-black sky just the same, passed under the streetlights with equal shadows and yearned for a release neither was willing to press on the other.

Chapter 7.B

I had earned a sunburn earlier in the day and even the silk shirt I wore was bothersome. But the wind helped. A cool wind from above that was balanced from a sunlit Earth that was just now cooling, releasing its heat upward to my feet, my calves, my belly.

When we got home we decided to go out to dinner at an out of the way Italian place on a busy street with fast-food joints littered on either side. We watched the waitresses from the front door, looking for some wed seen before or new ones we could set our sights on until we were seated.

You need a woman he says. No I don't. Sure you dont. When was the last time you got some he asks. Yeah, I couldn't tell you either. That means it's been too long. I dont know, I'm just not in the mood, you know. It's just another problem, more drama and it's just not worth it, I say. Dude, he says, having reluctantly picked up the term from me through our time together like bad habits or soap scum in the bathroom, you can't tell me that one nighta wild romp to just fucking, unh-unh-unh wouldn't do you the tiniest bit of good he asks. You know it would dont deny it. You're just being a pussy. Yeah, I say. A pussy.

The waitress came as well-proportioned as the meals here and went to her knees to write her name on the table. She finished and put her chin on her arms, now crossed over her name. How are you gentlemen today she asks. Gentlemen says my roomate. Well, you know, she says. We're fine I say, you look tired. Yeah, but I get off in a couple of hours, so I'll manage. She took our orders and said I'll be back in a minute with your drinks and I watched her walk away.

Chapter 7.C

Oh my god, he says, she wants to feel you in her, he says. Yeah, like I'm going to believe you about that and why do I want that again I asked. Because its not natural not to. Natural I ask, what's that coming from you of all people. What's natural about dealing with a psycho woman I ask. You don't know that she's psycho. Not yet I say. But they're all psycho.

She brought our drinks and took our order. I watched her walk away again. You want her, don't you. Look with your eyes, not your hands, I say almost sick that I'd adopted my mothers coined phrase from years ago. Fuck that, he says while rolling his eyes and landing them at another table. I watch as he scans the room.

Why don't you just admit that you want it and do something about it he says. I shrug and watch behind him as Lil walks in with her two friends. It was too weird a coincidence and I wondered if they were armed. But they looked so plain, with blue jeans and matching flannel shirts. Hey, look who showed up, I say. He doesn't move and asks who. Lil. Are you serious he asks. See for yourself she's over by the hostess. Woah, he says after looking back to me, thats kinda spooky I don't know about that. I told you, they're all that way. All of them.

She walked by with her friends and didn't notice us. But her friend noticed Ryan looking at her and nudged her attention to our table. I watched Ryan give a half-parade wave back to her and look back to me. Oh my god.

They're seated and our waitress starts writing her name on their table, just as she did ours. I picked up one of the crayons she had left behind and started to draw something off of the letters in her name.

Chapter 7.D

Ryan and I chatted about the breakup again and told me more about when he and she were together. I wondered why he never told me when we were going out, but remember how relieved he was to tell me when we broke up. We went and bought beer. He paid and wouldn't let me carry it to the car. The 12-pack bust through the bottom and bottles shattered everywhere. He said it was fine, only a few bottles, but I told him to go back and get a full case and we did. But we checked the bottom this time.

We sat at home talking and watching TV game shows. Each comment was painful, though we laughed out loud about some of the common ground that we had tread by knowing Lil.

It was the same at the dinner table and the comments didn't hurt so much after weeks had passed already. The girl came up with our orders and paused before setting mine down. Did you draw that, she said about my doodle. I said yeah and it's just messing around. But she said she liked it and that I should sign it just in case I were to get famous some day. I said no, but she didn't leave until I did. We started to eat and Lil came up to say hi. I waved but kept my mouth full. Let Ryan do the talking. He asked if they were armed and she laughed and didn't answer. She said she found one of my books in her car and that she'd bring it by sometime. I nodded and kept my mouth full. She said well, bye and left uncomfortably.

I don't know about that, Ryan says. He gossiped about the two people she was with and about his ex-roommate who had spent time with them. I kept eating.

Chapter 7.E

After the night crew was split up the annual audit came to the store. The hired in a crew of people to run around and count. The stockroom spent weeks preparing and labeling each box with the number of things inside to make it go faster. They asked me if I'd help out and said I wouldn't get extra pay, but they'd buy food for everybody. I agreed and the audit crews took over the next night. It wasn't anything like I remembered with the echoing hallways and bouts with silence alone in a dark aisle. Instead there were beeps everywhere. I had to go about my normal business with this swarm and fight to get around ladders and grumpy old men who travel this circuit at stores like this all over the Northwest and don't get any of the free food.

The managers were also there. All of them. They were unusually happy and the store manager saw me and wondered why the long face. I shrugged and went on with my work. Is everything okay, she asked and I said sure and looked in her searching for an answer to her nosiness. It must have been obvious because she said sorry and backed off like I had yelled at her. A few minutes later I was pulling bikes down from one of the shelves and Angelita came up with a flat to help. I moved out of the way and she said she was after the bikes I was going for. I helped her down with them and piled them on the flat. The other manager walked by and said to watch out around me I was in a bad mood. Angelita said yeah, that's what happens when you don't get any for a while, huh. I looked at her, then back to my LRT. She said yep, you can always tell when a guy isn't getting any. And the manager asked if it was true and I said I don't think its legal for them to be talking about this.

Chapter 7.F

I worked through the rest of the night brooding on her comment and took on another 8 hour shift that would start once this one was over. During one of my breaks I headed up to the conference room next to the break room where four tables had been decked out with different sandwiches and different combinations of meat or vegetables, all of which I wanted regardless of preference. I sat to eat one and the manager that was so eager to find out how I was doing walked in with the bubbly one and they laughed at the end of a joke as she told it. They said hi and my mouth was full so I held the sandwich up and gave them a nod. The bubbly one asked if I was getting something to eat and I held the sandwich up and gave them a nod. Not saying much today, are we, said the other one and I held up the sandwich and gave her a nod.

Well, that's okay, she said, youve earned it. You guys have been doing real well back there. I said thanks with my mouth full and kept it full by shoving in the next bite. She said slow down or Id make myself sick and I shrugged and grabbed another sandwich off the table and left to put it in my locker with my shoes and an unopened Ramen.

I close the locker and adjust the LRT and its holster around my waist. It drags down and cuts into my hip and when I'm done with it for the day it's the only one left and someone snatches it as I'm walking out and I hear them making a comment about how impossible it would be for them to be that skinny.

Chapter 7.F

I worked through the rest of the night brooding on her comment and took on another 8 hour shift that would start once this one was over. During one of my breaks I headed up to the conference room next to the break room where four tables had been decked out with different sandwiches and different combinations of meat or vegetables, all of which I wanted regardless of preference. I sat to eat one and the manager that was so eager to find out how I was doing walked in with the bubbly one and they laughed at the end of a joke as she told it. They said hi and my mouth was full so I held the sandwich up and gave them a nod. The bubbly one asked if I was getting something to eat and I held the sandwich up and gave them a nod. Not saying much today, are we, said the other one and I held up the sandwich and gave her a nod.

Well, that's okay, she said, youve earned it. You guys have been doing real well back there. I said thanks with my mouth full and kept it full by shoving in the next bite. She said slow down or I'd make myself sick and I shrugged and grabbed another sandwich off the table and left to put it in my locker with my shoes and an unopened Ramen.

I close the locker and adjust the LRT and its holster around my waist. It drags down and cuts into my hip and when I'm done with it for the day it's the only one left and someone snatches it as I'm walking out and I hear them making a comment about how impossible it would be for them to be that skinny.

Chapter 7.G

The sun was nearly blinding as I left the backlit storefront. As I walked to my car I saw Brenda's mother sitting in the family's white Dodge van with the red visor at the end of the hood. I felt her watching me as I approached my car and when I looked up she looked away, down into the passenger seat pretending to look for something in her purse.

I started up my car and let it warm up, walking around the outside to make sure nothing was wrong with it. No slashed tires, no odd chemical smells, no broken windows. Inside I pumped the brakes to make sure they pushed back. I waited and watched as she got out of her van and started to walk into the store. Her hair was held back in the car and I didn't see how bad it had been fried from its daily dye regimen until she walked past my car. Her eyes led her footsteps, never deviating from the path ahead of her. I revved my engine and she looked up, startled, as if caught in a crossfire with nothing to defend herself but lies, guilt and a white name badge with red lettering. When she saw me watching her she snapped her eyes back to the ground in front of her and knew I watched her walk all the way into work where she could tell everyone about what I'd done and probably how I'd nearly run her over. Then I laid back the seat, turned on my blinker and pulled out slowly, letting the car pull me along. Other cars zoomed in and out of the parking lot, desperate to get the junk I'd just spent hours getting out of the stockroom for them not knowing any better of it and perhaps someone returning a box of detergent that was half-empty and taped together at the bottom.

Chapter 7.H

On the way home I thought about what I would be giving up if the girl really was mine and replaying my relationships over the past year it didn't seem like much. The rumors were spinning out of control and getting closer and closer to the old crew, but the sales floor kept a distance from Adam and my secret was still safe from Donovan, Miguel and Theresa who had been able to find work elsewhere after the team was broken up. I'd kept it for this long. It was mine. I controlled it.

When I got home Ryan's step brother was over and I saw him eating at the table when I walked in through the glass door of the kitchen. A little girl jumped out from behind the drapes and screamed and giggled and ran to her dad sitting at the kitchen table. I heard Ryan shut the front door and watched him come around the corner from the hallway holding a pile of mail. He looked up at me and said hey pimp daddy and I said hey whos this munchkin. He said oh, that's Hope and thats my step brother. I said yeah, I think we met that time you came over to show Ryan your new truck. Ryan said yeah, his new grocery-getter. His step-brother laughed and said yeah. Hope, stay away from there hun, he said as he stood from the table and walked to where she stood quietly opening the cupboard under the kitchen sink. He pulled her hand away but she resisted and started to throw a fit. He picked her up and held her, swaying slightly and shushing her.

I said she looks like a handful and he said yeah she is at times and asked if I had any kids. Ryan said yeah, right, he doesn't even have a girlfriend.

Chapter 7.I

I chuckle and say yeah and head to my room. I fall against my door and exhale, then throw my keys on the bedside table. I can hear the little girl chattering and her father saying no, no, honey, don't play with that and Ryan laughs out loud at everything. But he doesn't seem to be laughing at what the girl's doing. He's laughing at something else.

I move away from the door and start digging through my closet for some clean clothes and take a shower. When I get out I notice the laughter has stopped. The steam and quiet feels good but I still feel dirty, as if a different type of cleansing might clean me. I look in our little medicine cabinet below the mirror that sticks out from the wall and gathers dust and fingerprints and smudges on its 1970s chrome surface. All I find is an old prescription bottle of antibiotics for athletes foot and a bottle of tums. I move the bottle of tums to the side and grab a tube of toothpaste sitting behind it. My toothbrush is in a small drawer next to the sink and I pull it out noticing the blue markings having faded months ago meaning its time for a new one. But its not broken and I haven't used it to clean auto parts or tools yet so I still use it.

I brush slowly and watch as the mist starts to clear and the fog-mirror apparition of me becomes clearer. Ryan's automatic spinning toothbrush sits dormant, charging up for its next bout with Ryan's mouth. A small green light glows showing the charge and I run my fingers across it, blocking the light, then letting go, tempted to take it from the charger and turn it on just to see.

Chapter 7.J

Oh Mr. B, he lulls from inches away through a thin plywood door. What, what do you want I say, jerking my hand away from the toothbrush as recoiling from a snake. What're you doing he asks. I say brushing my teeth with my toothbrush in my mouth. What he says. I spit and tell him I'm brushing my teeth. Oh. Can I come in he asks. I say hold on and put on the pants I'd brought in with me. He opens the door and I slam it shut. Hold on I say. He jiggles the handle until I button up my pants and tell him okay, you can come in.

Hey, he says. Hey. Where's your brother, I ask. Oh, he had to go to work, he says and I go back to brushing my teeth. So, he says. So I say with the toothbrush in my mouth. I spit and he asks what the plan is today. Plan I say, what plan. Come on, he says, you've got to have a plan. I say nothing. Read maybe. Read he shouts, good god, can you be any more boring. I said yeah and spit. I rinse the brush out and cup my hand for some water and use it to rinse my mouth. God I love cold water after brushing my teeth I say. He says I know, isn't that the shit. So, lets go out to coffee he says. I don't have any money. What, you never have any money. Where the hell is your money going. You work all the time and tell me you don't have any money. I tell him I'm using drugs and he laughs at me. Yeah, right. I lived with an addict for two years, trust me, I'd know if you were using. Well, I say. He sighs and says, fine, I'll buy. Get your shit together, man. Lets go.

Chapter 7.K

We take his car over to a coffee shop a few blocks away and park around the corner. He walks quickly and I see little point in struggling to keep up. Come on, he says, come on. I'm coming, I'm coming. There's this super-hot chick that works here and I think she's working today he says. I smile at him and he says what and opens the door for me.

The line is backed up to the door and he watches intently as each barista moves in their little coffee dance between machine and machine like a set of gears twirling and injecting a spoonful of these, a scoop of that, a dollop of this. She's not here, he says. Oh well, I say, maybe next time. He shrugs and asks what I want. I tell him and he asks what's on my mind. Nothing, just thinking, I say. He humms with a slight frown and says is friend, Ryan, was planning to go shooting today and that I should come. I say I don't know and he reminds me that I promised him I would a few days ago during a bet I didn't remember losing. Sure, I say, why not.

We finally get our coffee and leave and I notice in the back of his car a microwave much larger than the one we've been using at the house. I ask him if he went out and bought a microwave, but he says no, its broken. I ask him why it's in the back of his car and he says well, we've got to shoot at something and laughs.

I sip on my coffee as he calls his friend to meet us at our apartment. When we get there he goes into his bedroom and pulls out a various arsenal making at least three trips with two armfuls each time. He lined up the guns and ammo on the kitchen table and was looking at a metal piece from the workings of one of his pistols when Ryan arrived.

Chapter 7.L

Afternoon Sgt. Couch, he says. Hello he says, deflecting a sloppy salute with a crisp one. Sergeant already I ask and he says yeah and I see him wipe an eye while his gold watch gleams in morning sunlight. Ryan gets up from the kitchen table and clicks the weapon back together. He says what and okay, are you ready to go. I say sure and he tells me to grab that rifle there by the wall. It was a World War II Russian sniper rifle with dents and dings up the wooden stock. I pressed my thumb down its side and wondered if it could hold a bayonet. It's heavy in my hand but Ryan takes it as I turn after Couch asked to see it. Couch aims it in the crook of his shoulder at the garbage can and asks if he was able to get any ammo for it. Ryan lifts the lid to the metal ammo box I lifted from the table and removes a small box, then presses it to Couch's belly. He took a bullet from the box and looked at it, flipped it over and read the inscription on the brass. Where did you get this, did you have to order it, he asks. Five bucks a box on E-Bay, Ryan says. Ouch. For 24 bullets, huh, doesn't look like they can be reloaded. Ryan shrugs and takes them from him as he looks and sets them back in the metal case. Lets go he says and opens the sliding glass door and steps outside holding a rifle in each hand by the stock.

We load up his car and I barely have enough room to sit between the old microwave and ammo boxes and the rifles pointed skyward around me. A few minutes later we arrive at the lakeside shooting range and take a dirt road past a locked gate that Couch had a key to. He said he has a membership to the gun club that maintains the range.

Chapter 7.M

We pull over to one of the shooting bays that looks like a dirt parking lot for a semi. Ryan steps out and takes some of the guns at one side while Sgt. Couch opens the opposite door and does the same. I set the ammo box on the seat beside me so I could get up and out. I crawled out the door and leapfrogged the metal box out with me. It was heavy at my side but I acted like it was nothing when Ryan said watch out, it's heavy and started laughing. He walked around me standing there while I rubbed my eye with my free hand and he went around to open the hatch of his sport wagon and lift out the microwave. He groaned and arched his back to support the thing and hobbled to a spot about 100 yards away and dropped it. He turned to walk back before it stopped moving and rocks slid under his feet or rolled away from his steps.

Sgt. Couch was setting up an assault rifle on a small table nearby and I walked over to set the ammo box down and he looked up from his rifle when it clanked onto the table, then looked back to the clip he was loading and finished inserting the bullets he held in his palm. I watched as he opened the metal case and lifted a few of the boxes out and set them aside. He pulled one out, opened it, and took one of the bullets out to look at it. Ryan walked up behind me and slugged me in the shoulder and thumbed my attention to the microwave. You ready to blow this shit up he says and I say sure but am interrupted by the crack crack crack of Sgt. Couch's assault rifle. It jams and he swears. Ryan laughs. He loads a bullet into the sniper rifle and checks his ear plugs before taking aim. I realize I don't have anything in and look over to Sgt. Couch to see if he has an extra pair. He hands me a small plastic bag and I say wait Ryan while I'm trying to open the bag and my ears begin to ring. I wince and cup my ears and look up to see a thin stream of smoke coming from the chamber of the sniper rifle. Ryan laughs and says god damn that's loud and starts loading again. I hurry up and squish the foam between my fingers and get the second ear plug in time to avoid another ring. Man, Couch, you've got to feel this kick, it's pretty strong, he says. Sgt. Couch says aww, you're just being a puss he says and takes the gun. Ryan hands him a single bullet and says we'll see who's the puss after your shoulder's all bruised up.

Chapter 7.N

The muffled explosion was followed by a woah as Sgt. Couch pulled the rifle from his shoulder and held it in front of him, looking. He walked back to where we stood by the loading table and asked could you imagine listening to a battlefield full of that and Ryan said fuck and nodded. After we'd all shot off a few assault rifle rounds and enough of the five dollar bullets to satisfy our noise needs we stepped out to the mangled hunk of metal and plastic that once cooked TV dinners and warmed tea or top ramen. Ryan and I lifted it up while Sgt. Couch scounged around for bits of glass and metal shards that flew off.

We wrapped it in a wool emergency blanket and as we drove back I held the sniper rifle in my hand feeling unusually calm while Ryan and Sgt. Couch chatted about women and work. They asked if I'd heard from Morgan, a mutual friend of ours anytime recently and I said sure, all the time. When we arrived back home everybody split up and I was left to lift the microwave into the dumpster. It rolled in and clanked around but was probably muffled to me after the sea of gunblasts moments earlier. I lifted the blanket and whipped it to the sky and as it fell back to the earth in a calm wave several tiny shards of metal glimmered down behind it.

Later that night I realized I hadn't talked to Morgan in weeks so I called and left a message. He called me back a few hours later and asked if I wanted to drink with him, his girlfriend and her cousin because she told him to bring a boy back from the liquor store. I said sure, give me 20 minutes.

Chapter 7.O
I rinsed myself in the shower and doused on some cologne. It wasn't my best stuff, but it would do. On the drive over I wondered if I really wanted to get involved with anything and decided I'd just be there for a night. And if things didn't work out I had work in the morning and an excuse to leave early.

It was dark when I arrived and they had started watching a movie without me. I'd already missed the first half hour and none of it was making any sense. I couldn't even tell if it was a chick flick or not. But still I took up a seat next to this girl that wasn't Morgan's girlfriend. They sat poking each other on a love seat next to us. His girlfriend picked at his shirt tail. The girl next to me was quiet and didn't seem too excited to see me. Maybe I wasn't the kind of guy she wanted from the liquor store. Maybe she knew I didn't come from the liquor store. Either way, I matched her stare at the TV screen and began to wonder why I came over.

The phone rang and Morgan's girlfriend answered. She said sure, hang on, and handed the phone to the girl next to me. Chrysteen, its for you, she said. Chrysteen let out a sigh as she took the phone and said hello. No. What do you mean. I can't go to the hospital, I've been drinking. He's your son, you need to take care of him. She yelled as the conversation continued and eventually hung up crying. She set the phone on the coffee table in front of us and I didn't feel comfortable consoling her. As she muffled cries next to me I bent and picked up a TV Guide next to the phone. It rang after I'd leaned back and I handed it to Morgan's girlfriend.

Chapter 7.P

She answered it and offered the phone to Chrysteen, saying it's your mom. She said oh, great, through sobs and reiterated the whole conversation from before. I could hear her mother's voice through the receiver and looked over to Morgan, who was watching himself pick away at the shirt tail while holding hands with the girl beside him. I didn't look at Chrysteen, as if it would stop if I ignored it. But it didn't. Her voice grew with the TV volume and the movie was all but lost to me.

Hey, Morgan, I think I should go. He asked if I was sure and I raised my eyebrows. I looked over at the girl next to me who was shouting in the phone with a hand inside her shirt sleeve wiping away mascara. I just think its a bad time. He said yeah, maybe you're right. Chrysteen hung up the phone and wiped her eyes. She apologized and I said no, it's okay. I should probably go, though. I have to work in the morning. She asked where I worked and I told her, but somehow didn't think she really wanted to know or cared. I stood up and pulled my keys from my pocket and said well. I guess I'll be going. Well, thanks for coming, Mr. B. His girlfriend said yeah, maybe we can try this again another time. I said sure and looked back at the girl but she was staring at the TV holding back tears. Well, it was nice meeting you, I said and held out a hand. She took it and I felt her wet shirt sleeve in my grip. Give me a call, Morgan I said as I left, I'll see you around. My shoes creaked across the wooden floor and they turned the volume up behind me.

Chapter 7.Q

I headed back home reaffirmed about being alone. I turned the radio up and drove fast without reason. Ryan was out on a date from a girl at Starbuck's. He'd managed to work up the courage to ask her out over months of coffee before class. The date fell through a few times before and this was the first time they'd managed to get it together, albeit a few weeks after he first asked her out. When I got home he wasn't back yet and the house was dark. I opened the fridge and found a bottle of hard apple cider that he'd bought. He might chew me out for taking it, but I could always pay him back. I needed this. The fridge made the room glow long enough for me to see myself gripping the lid off. But it shut before I'd thrown it away. I threw it in the direction of the garbage can and heard it miss in the dark and rattle on the floor. I took a swig and walked to my bedroom.

Next to my bed was a small brown book I'd tried to keep thoughts in. I could never hold on to them long enough to let them develop so I'd sprinkle pictures in that I felt would illustrate the point. I sat down on my bed and picked up the book. I held it up to the streetlight and set it down next to me while I lit an oil lamp on my bed stand. The lamp's wick was nearly out but it worked. I held the book close to it and read for something new. But it was all old. I drank another swig and picked up the pen I'd used from earlier entries. The last one was a few months back and I started drawing a picture, having little to write about.

Chapter 7.R

By the time Ryan had returned, the doodle had erupted into a flame scape with a phoenix coming from the center. The picture spanned two pages and was more lifelike than any of the others I'd drawn before.

I heard a bottlecap fall into the garbage can. Ryan came around the hallway and after a minute he came into my room with a shirt he'd borrowed on a hangar. He set it on my doorknob and said hey. I nodded and took a swig. God damn, are you drinking by yourself he asked. I shrugged and he laughed. Woah, dude, you're a fucking lush. I say it's just one beer and he says yeah, by yourself. Shit. Do you have any stashed away in the toilet he asked and turned on the bathroom light between our rooms. I heard the porcelain cover come off and clank back on. I closed the book and set it on the bed stand under a magazine. The light turned off and he came in and opened my closet door. How about in the closet, he asked. I said yeah, yeah, and he said you never know. Yep. You better watch out, or I'll steal your milk money for beer. He laughed as he walked away and came back with a beer. Carbonation seeped from beneath the cap as he lifted it off and he took the cap in one hand, his beer in the other. He walked over to a chair next to my closet with some dirty clothes on it and stood on it. He pressed the bottle cap into the ceiling and I noticed how short he was, standing on his tip-toes to reach.

He turned and stepped down, then sat beside me. How was your date with the barista I asked and he shrugged. I notice she didn't come home with you, what's up with that I asked. He said he doesn't know, she's weird and took a swig. I asked if they'd be going out again and he shrugged with the bottle in his mouth.

Chapter 7.S

I asked him when was the last time he'd had sex. He said fuck, months. He asked me and I said the weeks. We talked about his ex-girlfriend and he wanted to talk about mine. I was careful not to say anything about Brenda. Dates, times, places, but nothing more. He said the name sounded familiar and I stopped talking about her all together.

A few weeks later the Twin Towers were bombed. I found out when my brother Erik called. I had pulled into work that morning as the sun came up and he said we'd been attacked. He gave me what details he could and work seemed a little different that day. The customers were few and serious-looking. My co-workers were just as confused and the routine didn't quite fit anybody. One of the ladies I razzed on occasion was crying on the stockroom phone while talking to her husband. One of the managers, the little squirrelly one, said it's just unbelieveable and as I pushed a cart up to the electronics department someone managed to get the close-circuit TVs to broadcast the news and looped footage of the attacks. I watched as an old lady pointed the screens out to a child at her hand and the kid didn't understand what she was trying to tell him.

I realized if I didn't get out of this work before too long I'd be stuck here like my supervisor and the guy down that aisle back there who had been here for more than seven years and was doing the same things I was. The world was changing around me but everything remained the same here. It was comfortable but not smart. I needed a new direction or else I'd wind up just like him or the managers with the fake smiles.

Next Chapter


The frustrations of keeping the secret weigh in on the narrator as he waits for the results of a paternity test. He has a reason to wait, but only partly unsure of his responsibilities. His phone conversations skirt the issue and a planned parenthood TV commercial is hard to take in at his parents house during dinner.