When she’d seen the ad in the paper, Mari had thought it sounded exciting — romantic, even. And besides, it wasn’t like she’d been planning on doing anything else with her half-completed atmospheric science bachelor’s degree this summer, considering that all of the local news stations had old snow-haired meteorologists who’d been there a thousand years each and would probably still be standing in front of blue-screened weather maps when the inevitable collapse of human civilization came a thousand years on. Shitty old-boy networks like that tended to keep their own. Maybe someday she’d impress them, but for now she was more concerned with impressing her landlord with her ability to pay him.
What she hadn’t thought was that she’d wind up stuffed in a ratty, ancient baby-blue VW bus with a broken radio and doors that looked ready to fall off their hinges at any moment, holding a brand-new 1992 Rand McNally Road Atlas, its spine already permanently broken over the Texas panhandle. She was also sweating like a pig and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. “What are we–”
“Shhht!” Camille hissed at her, shooing at her with the hand that wasn’t fiddling the dial. This far out from most civilization, the best signal they could get on the tiny, battery-powered Sony radio was one where Mari could hear maybe every tenth word coming in over the AM stations, if she squinted and pretended. Camille had been doing this for years, though, and by now, she seemed to speak static as a second language. She put one well-pierced ear up to the speaker and shut her eyes, chewing on her lower lip and frowning with concentration. Mari more than half-suspected her crazy boss just did this for show most of the time, then ‘interpreted’ the hisses and infrequent signals to mean whatever she wanted to mean. At least she wasn’t looking for tornadoes on commission.
So Mari reclined the driver’s seat as far as it would go and tried not to die of heatstroke. She’d started the day with a bra, undershirt, t-shirt, and ratty old polo barong she’d stolen from her dad, but was now down to the undershirt only, and even that was soaked through with sweat. She could see her dark nipples clearly through the drenched white fabric. Well, thank fuck nobody but the jackalopes was out here to see.
JULIA: It’s just a little– Oh, shit.
JULIA: And then you want to– Shit. Balls. Hold on.
JULIA: But always– [offscreen crash] Oh, sweet Jesus, fuck me sideways.
JULIA: Well, either these will be the best petit fours I’ve ever made, or I’m just going to have to kill everyone in the building to cover the evidence.
[musical cue, title card: “BLESS YOUR HEART”]
It was a testament to his great panic and agitation that, upon having his Agency-managed alert system flare red and broadcast the words BABÁ DOWN directly into his brain, Alastair managed to wash his hands only three times before racing out the door of his apartment.
The first time Nate met Jase was in ninth grade: the afternoon after his first day of high school, in fact. There was an independent record store near the university campus, on the basement level of another storefront, that he could get to by bus if he needed to, and he definitely needed to after all that cold sweat and tears of boredom. It was his favorite place in town; he’d found it in the yellow pages in a fit of desperation, when all his naive attempts to find The Feelies at the mall or the shopping center had been in vain. It was seedy and mildew-smelling, with only a hand-lettered sign on black posterboard out front to mark it, and all the walls and ceiling inside painted a glossy black — although you could barely see any of the walls because the whole twenty-foot-square space was floor-to-ceiling with racks of cassettes, sometimes at haphazard angles or looking like they were about to fall out onto the floor. The guy who perched at the jackleg counter was a pudgy 20-something with shaggy hair and horn-rim glasses, who wore long flannel shirts and always seemed to be reading books by Immanuel Kant. The one time Nate had made his mom bring him, she’d taken one look at the place and looked about to faint. It wasn’t a mistake he ever planned to make again.
He would say the worst part of it was the cliché of it all, but really, the worst part of it was getting his nose shoved into his locker on a daily basis. The cliché thing was just a delightful garnish, a little sprig of parsley on his afternoon pain in the ass.
“Don’t dunk on us, now!” said Steve Williams as he dribbled the back of Dante’s head into his locker. Dante kept his face against the cold metal after he pulled away, just to minimize the damage of any possible second strike. But no, Steve and the rest of his team were just laughing now, and Dante lifted his head up to watch them walk away. The basketball team just loved his ass.
“I think it’d be good for you to start painting again.”
Navid didn’t answer, keeping his eyes fixed instead out the window. It was raining hard now, and the wind pushed the drops nearly sideways into the glass, giving a view of the grounds as though from behind a waterfall, everything distorted and distant. The IV in the back of his hand itched; he didn’t like it there, but Dr. Lin had told him after he’d pulled out the last one that it’d be a good idea to give the vein in his elbow some time to heal. Everyone in the clinic had lots of good ideas to share.
The last day Stacey walked into Jules’ workshop with bags under his eyes and a new tattoo was simultaneously the best and the worst day of Garrett’s life.
“Oh, honey,” said Cory, who knew the signs by now. She put down the potato cannon blueprint she’d been sketching and gave him a big hug, standing on her tip-toes so her arms got all the way around his neck. “You’ve got to stop doing this to yourself.”
“Looks like she’s stopping it for me,” Stacey sighed, patting Cory’s back. “She’s getting married next month. But hey, look, testosterone!” He unzipped his pants.
Thinking back now, I remember it in slow motion, like when the film gets caught in the projector at the pictures and everything spins down until Greta Garbo moves like she’s underwater and sounds like a foghorn speaking Swiss. But at the time, it went so fast that the only real, conscious thought my brain got off was what the hell is Bruno Battaglio smiling about? Then the pistols started shattering the glassware above the bar, and I grabbed Ken’s tie, and we hit the floor hard.