It was a pleasant evening. Andrew expected Liz to fall asleep halfway through, but she didn’t. In fact, she watched the movie raptly, and didn’t want to talk when it was time to change tapes. They watched the whole four-hour epic and Andrew left full of tasty lasagna and Fritos, and feeling good about Liz, who seemed to be doing much better.
This was his week for doing stuff for other people, it seemed. Peach was moving on Saturday, to a loft downtown, and since he barely had a car (his rustbucket Karmann-Ghia had shingles for floorboards), let alone a vehicle that could carry what little furniture he owned, Andrew had volunteered his pickup truck. He’d been hoping to put the truck–a high-performance Ford Lightning–away for the winter, but hadn’t found time to shop for a winter beater yet. The weather was supposed to be cold but clear, so he could probably put it off for another week or two. Andrew went to bed at midnight, feeling useful and content.
He was feeling so good that he woke up with an urge to burn a sick day, in fact.
So he did. Peach was already at the office when he called. “IT,” he answered, his voice mellow and patient even though he was probably on the second of five cups of coffee he’d go through that day.
“Hey, Peach, it’s Andrew.”
“If you haven’t left home yet, you’re going to be late,” Peach said, a smile in his voice. “It’s a quarter after eight.”
“Yeah, I’m staying home today.”
“Too much fun at Liz’ place?” Peach spoke without a hint of innuendo in his voice. His assumption was that Andrew was hung over.
“Nope, just feel like having a day to myself. Wait, I mean–” he faked a cough– “I think I just puked up my pancreas, man. I can’t stand up, and there are spots on my vision. Ughhh…” Andrew faked a retch, then a death rattle.
Peach chuckled. “I’ll let Frank know. What do you plan to do, if you survive your illness?”
“This, that and the other thing. I got those shelves I wanted to put up. I’ll probably swing by Rex’s and see if they’ve got anything new.”
“That’s by Twelve Oaks,” Peach said. “Could I trouble you to stop by there for socks and a futon sheet?”
Andrew rolled his eyes. “Man, you have got to get over this mall thing. I can’t go shopping for you all the time.”
“It’s pointless for me to go if you’re going. You can bring everything to me on Saturday.”
“What is your deal with the mall?”
“The canned air makes me sick,” Peach said. “And commercialism gives me hives. If they had a generic store that wasn’t stocked entirely with the reapings of Third World sweatshops, I’d shop there. But there isn’t one.”
“It’s a tough old world that way,” Andrew agreed absently. “Whatever. Any preferences? Should I get you Tommy Hilfiger socks?”
“What color sheet?”
Peach considered. “Anything that strikes you as being vaguely cranberry-colored.”
“No worries. Catch you later.”
“Hope you feel better,” Peach said. He didn’t sound sarcastic; Andrew guessed that Frank had probably just walked in behind him. He felt the usual school-kid guilt for a moment, and half-expected the phone to ring and Frank to order him to come to work because he wasn’t sick. Of course, it didn’t happen. He was free for the day.
The first thing Andrew did with his day of freedom was to go back to sleep, because it wasn’t a proper day off if he couldn’t sleep till double digits. When he finally got up for real, he went out, put gas in the truck. Damn, it was cold. The first early-November cold snaps of the year were starting to hit, and Michigan’s shift from fall to winter was, as always, bracing at first. Once he threw himself back in the truck, flexing his numbing fingers, he drove to the mall, like he’d planned to.
He got Peach’s stuff first, put it in the truck, then went back to Electronic Connection to browse. From there, he drifted down to the Generic Mall CD Shop, too. The mall was pleasant during the day, with the ranks of teens thinned by school. Andrew didn’t find the mall at all stressful on school afternoons. He figured he ought to get some Christmas shopping done now, while he was here and before the post-Thanksgiving rush began. The decorations were already going up–they went up earlier every year, and everyone in the world noticed but no one seemed concerned about it–and the season would begin in earnest soon enough. There were a gaggle of little cousins to buy for, most of them girls and about a third of them not-so-secretly harboring incestuous crushes on him. Andrew liked to buy punk rock for them–they were young enough that they didn’t appreciate what a Misfits or a Rancid album really meant, but old enough to giggle and have a sense that they were doing something Rebellious. It was cute. It was also a way to acknowledge their interest without doing anything creepy.
“Why is it only fifteen year-old girls are interested in me?” he asked the cashier, who didn’t look too much older than fifteen herself. She was about five-four and heroin-chic skinny, but cute nonetheless, with big dark eyes, brows that had been razored off then painted back in as straight lines, and an amused curl to her deep-maroon lips. She had accessorized her uniform with a leather dog collar, too. She looked vaguely familiar, and Andrew guessed he’d probably seen her at a club somewhere, some time.
“What’s the problem with that?” she asked. “Are they too old for you?”
Andrew laughed, then realized belatedly that he was the one being insulted. Oh, well, it had been a good one. “Damn. Left myself open for that one, didn’t I?” He handed the girl two twenties for the CDs.
“Sorry, I had to say it. It’s my predatory nature,” she said. Andrew flicked his eyes to her nametag: DRUSILLA. “Hope you’re not offended.” Her eyes suggested that maybe she hoped he was, a bit. It was hard to tell, with her eyebrows like that.
“And they let you work in a mall full of prey,” he said.
Drusilla handed him his change, grinning. “Coming to work makes it worth chewing through the leather straps every morning. I’ve seen you somewhere before. Do you go to Cellar Dweller?”
Yup–that was why she was vaguely familiar. Then again, half the girls at that club came from the same basic template. “I’ve been going there since before they called it that,” he said. “We all thought it was a dumb name change, considering that it’s on the second floor.”
This time she laughed. “I never thought about that, but you’re right. That is pretty dumb. But it’s a cool place, anyway. Maybe I’ll see you up there some time.”
“Say hi if you do. You’re not fifteen, are you?”
Drusilla smiled, making that unreadable face again. “Just turned sixteen,” she said. This time it was clear she was kidding, because Cellar Dweller was 18-up, and she’d have to be in school today if she was a student. “See ya around.”
Andrew waved, and found himself kind of hoping that he would.