I have maybe a dollar in change in my pocket. Steph wants a Slurpee and is irritated that I don’t have enough money. I would’ve stolen my dad’s car for her. I would’ve donated a kidney. Our mothers were in the same birthing class. Steph was my oldest, sometimes only, friend. We had known each other before we were born but she doesn’t like it when I tell people that.
God, it’s so creepy, Cat, is what Steph says. Just don’t. It’s not like that is even possible anyway. Gross. Just don’t, she tells me. So, I don’t tell people that anymore but I still wanted to believe it.
Here. Here is a quarter, Steph says. Get me a Diet Coke. And hurry up. I gotta be in Adams Morgan in like five minutes, she orders me. Steph leans against a postal box and reapplies lip gloss.
I step inside the 7-11. It smells of processed meat, burnt coffee and patchouli. The air conditioning is set so low condensation has formed on the plate glass windows. I am damp with sweat and immediately begin shivering.
Yo, Cat. You riding a bender or something? You’re like totally wet, says Derek at the cash register. He graduated two years ago. We were in Chemistry together. Steph let him feel her up at a party last summer in exchange for some edibles.
Hey, D, I say. There’s just a great disparity in temperature, you know. Derek looks at me blankly. Maybe now is not the best time to practice my SAT vocab.
I try again; It’s hot outside. I need to get Steph a Diet Coke.
Yeah, alright. So, you still hang with her, he asks me.
I’m walking back to the wall of refrigerated beverages and I laugh at this question. What do you mean, D? She’s my best friend. I’ve known- Derek cuts me off.
He says, Yeah, yeah. ‘you’ve known her since you were in the womb’. I know. It’s just that she talks shit.
I feel cold and then a searing blush spreads over my face. I want to be stunned by what Derek is telling me but I have sensed this for a while. I put the cola on the counter. Looking down at my feet, I manage to ask, About me?
Derek rings me up. He’s not hot but he has soulful eyes. He looks at me over the register and I am reminded of Buster, my dog.
Jamming his hands in pockets he says to me, Hey, look Cat. I shouldn’t have said anything, you know. I figured you had heard. Just surprised to see you’re still hanging with her. That’s all.
Angrily, I respond, Yeah, well I’m surprised you’re still working at 7-11, ok? I mean, jeez, aim high, right?
Derek’s Buster eyes open wide with disbelief. The level I aimed for hit the mark.
Ok, Catherine. Diet Coke is on me. I don’t need this high school shit, he retorts.
I immediately regret being rude. I’m embarrassed. I wanted to make Derek feel as small as I do. Instead, I’ve made myself feel worse.
I plead, Listen Derek, I’m really sorry. That was crappy of me to say. I apologize. I- I don’t know why I said that. I think to myself though that I do.
Derek exhales audibly and his curly bangs briefly lift from his forehead.
It’s cool, Catherine, he says. This is kind of what I mean. Like, if Steph had said that I would’ve expected it. She’s only out for herself, you know.
I am about to refute what he has said. I am about to stand up for my best friend, tell Derek that Steph is more than just a set of DDs and a pretty face but the bell jingles and Steph leans in.
She spits out, What the fuck, Cat? You sucking his dick or something? I’m thirsty.
I reach for the cola and Derek looks at me plaintively, as if he’s asking me, See?
Thanks D. I’ll see you around, I manage to squeak out to Derek.
Yeah, ok, Catherine, he replies in a dejected voice.
Steph grunts as she reaches for the cola; You gonna hang out with that loser later, Catherine, she mockingly asks me.
I am about to laugh. I am about to capitulate. I am about to savage Derek and castigate myself and allow Steph to drag me around and keep humiliating me behind my back. I am about to relegate myself to being a backup plan. I let the door close behind Steph and then I turn back to Derek, immediately locking eyes with him. I am struck again with how emotive, how Buster-like his eyes are. The thing about Buster is his eyes tell you everything you need to know. I used to tell my secrets to Steph but when I talk to her now, she only blinks and brings up the boys she’s been hanging with at GW’s summer program. Lately, I’ve only shared my secrets with Buster. I take a deep breath.
I say to Derek, The Uptown is running a Studio Ghibli marathon this week. Do you want to go see Princess Mononoke with me tonight?
Derek smiles broadly. His eyes are only a little less brown than Buster’s.
He replies, Ghibli! Right on. I… I wish I could but I am taking night classes at NoVa. I’m, um, I’m actually enrolled at American this fall. I just needed to make some money first.
I flush hotly. I look quickly toward the door so Derek doesn’t see. Steph is on her phone crossing the street. I am certain she has no idea I am not behind her.
Hey, I am off tomorrow. You think we can catch a matinee?
I turn back to Derek. He is still smiling. Actually, he is kind of hot.
Indubitably, I say.
He says, Right on; It’s a date.
Fannie H. Gray lives in Montclair, NJ with her husband, two children, Mac the Boston Terrier, and Neo the Tuxedo. Her fiction can be found in The Tatterhood Review, Sledgehammer Lit, and Sad Girls Club. She prefers coffee with chicory and a damn fine Rob Roy. Twitter: @fannnster.