14: Secondhand Smoke

“Where did you say the restaurant was, again?” Smile asked.  They were lost somewhere in Ann Arbor.  He was at the wheel of Dori’s Neon, and Khalid and Sheerin were silent in the back seat.

“I didn’t say,” Dori said.  “It’s in downtown Ann Arbor on Liberty, but I don’t know where we are now.”

“It’s impossible to find your way around this town,” he muttered.  “Is it even any good?”

“Does it matter?  Do you know of another vegetarian place?  You should’ve listened to the directions I gave you.”

Smile glowered.  “So give me directions now.”

“I can’t do that unless you want to start over from home.  I have no idea where we are now.”  Picking up Khalid had turned into a complete clusterfuck, of course.  He and Sheerin wanted to go out to eat, but it had to be a vegetarian restaurant, and Smile had no idea where one was.  Dori did, having flirted with vegetarianism on and off in the past, but directions weren’t her strong suit.  Smile hadn’t paid attention to the directions she gave, and now they’d been driving around in circles for half an hour.

“Ismail, let’s just go home,” Khalid said.  “We’re very tired.”  Even Dori could hear the you’re-a-failure undertone in his voice.  No wonder Smile was so hypersensitive to it.  She made a mental note to be nicer to him when he screwed up.

“No,” Smile said.  “I can find it.  We’re close.”  He’d never even been there before.

Sheerin said something Dori didn’t understand and it wasn’t until Khalid replied that she realized they were speaking Chaldean.  Smile responded.  He was embarrassed about speaking it, but she had always thought it was cool and wished she could have been bilingual.

Shortly, they were arguing in Chaldean.  That was less cool, because she couldn’t help.  The voices went up and up and up, and Dori wasn’t sure if she should pretend she wasn’t there, or try to get them to speak English, or what.  She had the distinct sense that they were arguing about her, but that was probably just paranoia.

Smile finally turned and started driving back toward the freeway.  “Okay, we’re going home,” he said.

“No dinner?”

“Khalid’s tired,” he said.

“So, are you going to take me back to Aunt Andrea’s and get your car, or what?”

Smile’s face contorted in irritation, and he banged on the steering wheel.  “Shit, I forgot.  Yeah, that’s fine.  I’ll drop you off and take the Taurus tonight.”

If there was a way for him to make it sound more like the Neon was his car without actually saying so, she didn’t know what it was.  Dori didn’t say anything else to him on the way home.  Khalid and Sheerin seemed content to let the silence fester.

When they got home, Dori resisted the urge to slam the door.  She offered to help with transferring the luggage from one car to the other, but the Kazemis had closed ranks and she couldn’t get a hand in.  She was left torn between feeling like she should apologize and being pissed off, and Smile didn’t even offer a hug goodbye, just got in the car and left.

“You’re home early,” Aunt Andrea said as Dori shuffled in the door.  It was barely seven. 

“Some nights are like that,” she said.

Aunt Andrea picked up on the moodiness in her voice, and set her crossword puzzle aside.  “Oh, no.  What happened?”

“Nothing, really.  We went and picked up his brother from the airport.”

“Sounds like there was an argument.”

Dori shrugged.  The television was on, and she looked at it instead of at her aunt.  Talking to her like this made her feel sixteen again, which seemed to make Aunt Andrea comfortable but irritated the shit out of Dori. 

“Does his brother dislike you for some reason?”

“I have no idea.  He won’t let me see his family.  And it’s not like he refuses to let me see them, but we never go over there together any more, and it used to be cool to sit around and chat with his dad or whatever.  But I haven’t been there since we started going out.  I feel like he’s ashamed of me or something.”

There was a scuttling sound from the kitchen.  Dori turned toward it; and saw something trotting out of the darkened dining area toward her.

It was a black cockapoo.

“What the fuck?” she gasped, pulling her feet up onto the couch.  The dog sniffed curiously at her, and she resisted the urge to kick it.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you!” Aunt Andrea chirped.  “We adopted a puppy from the Humane Society.  Carl and I have wanted to get a dog for so long, and we finally decided that we ought to do it.  Her name is Mary, because she looks like a little black sheep.  Get it?”

Mary sniffed Dori’s boot; she pulled her foot up onto the couch and got up on her knees, half-expecting the puppy to jump up on the couch with her.  “I get it.  When should I move out?”

“What?”  She sounded hurt.  “Dori, we didn’t get a dog to pressure you to leave.”

“So, um, you just happened to pick a dog that looks just like the one that tried to bite my face off?”  Dori didn’t like being angry with Aunt Andrea, but she wished the woman would just make her point bluntly once in a while, instead of leaving a hundred little clues around as if Dori was Morgan Freeman on a mission to figure out the whole mystery or something.

“I had no idea,” Aunt Andrea said, pressing a hand to her throat.  “Oh, my goodness, Dori, I’m so sorry!”  She seemed genuinely upset and embarrassed, too.  Mary looked up at Dori and wagged her stub tail.

Dori sighed and sank back to a sitting position.  “Yeah, everybody’s sorry lately.”  She shook her head.  “Everything sucks right now, Aunt Andrea.  The dog is just icing.  I don’t care.  And no, before you ask, I didn’t have a chance to look at the apartment books.”  She had asked Dori about it every night this week.  Oh, but there was no pressure.  Right.

“Carl said that you said you were planning to move out by Thanksgiving,” Aunt Andrea said.  “I wanted to tell you that you don’t need to rush.”

“Where the hell did Uncle Carl get that?  I never said anything like that.”

“I suppose he misunderstood something else you said,” she replied.  “Either way, I told him that I didn’t think we should give you a hard and fast deadline like that.  It’s a big transition for you, and we’d rather not rush you into it.”

This was more annoying than the big College Discussion they’d had when high school ended.  “I think this is one of those nights where I just go to bed really early and stay there all night, okay?” Dori said.  If she stayed and talked to Aunt Andrea, she was going to flip out and scream at the woman and maybe set herself on fire, or something exciting like that.  On days like this she missed Faith, the girl she’d dated before she and Smile had hooked up.  Faith knew how to have a really good shit-fit and not break anything or hurt herself.

The phone rang.  The cordless handset was right next to Aunt Andrea’s chair, and she picked it up.  “Hello?  Hello?”  She waited a moment longer.  “Hello, is someone there?”  She hung up.  “That’s the fourth time that’s happened tonight,” she said.

Dori’s couldn’t remember if she’d told Aunt Andrea about the football thing.  It didn’t matter; she wasn’t in the mood to right now.  Besides, Aunt Andrea would wig out about the guys who’d thrown a bottle at her, and the tire-slashing stuff.  They might even drag her down to the police station to file a report (they’d done it before), and then probably off to a lawyer to sue the newspaper or something, and that would just turn a moderately sucky evening into a good excuse for a messy suicide.  Although the lawyer thing was looking like a good idea, especially if people were going to prank the house at all hours of the night and chuck hard objects at her head.  “Can I use the phone?”

Aunt Andrea handed it to her.

Dori had a weird, random urge to call Faith, but she knew that was partly just because she was pissed at Smile.  There was no way to act on the urge anyhow; Faith had moved to Seattle and she didn’t have the new number.  Apart from Faith, Dori suddenly realized, she just didn’t have that many people she hung out with who weren’t friends-of-friends.  There was Smile, who wasn’t available, and Clover, whom she didn’t feel like dealing with.  And there was Brian.  And that was it.  She didn’t want to be alone, or with Aunt Andrea, and she was out of options.  She called Brian.  “What do you do when it’s a weeknight and you’re all pissed off at your boyfriend and don’t want to sit around the house?” she asked.  She wanted to ask him about getting a lawyer about the football shit, too, but not in front of Aunt Andrea, so she got up and wandered into the kitchen to peer into the fridge.  Mary followed her, stub tail wagging.

“I don’t have a boyfriend,” Brian teased.

“Shut up, dick, you know what I mean.”

“Well, seeing as how your bestest buddy–me–is busy with his folks this evening, and it’s a weeknight so you can’t go to the bar and have a nasty one-night stand, I would suggest going for a drive and listening to angry music really loudly.”

“Is that how guys handle these things?”  The dog was sniffing her leg, and she gave it a shove.

Brian laughed.  “Ninety percent of the time,” he joked.  “Look, I have to go.  My mom and I were on our way out the door.”

“No worries,” Dori said, and let him go.  It would’ve been nice if he had dropped everything to come over and have ice cream with her or something, but that was just a selfish thought.  She returned to the living room and sat with Aunt Andrea.

“Was that Brian?” she asked.  It seemed like she could usually tell who Dori was talking to by the way she talked.  “What did he suggest?” she asked.

“That I go for a drive.  And I think I will.  I don’t really feel like being in tonight.”  She didn’t feel like being eavesdropped on, either.  Maybe moving out wasn’t such a bad idea; there were a lot of things about Aunt Andrea that she just put up with that she really didn’t like and it had never occurred to her to just change the situation.

“Why don’t you call one of your other friends, like Clover perhaps?  Or that girl who spent the night last week?”

“Taylor?” Dori said, surprised.  “I dunno if Taylor’s a good idea.  She’s Bree’s little sister.”

“Bree the Christian girl, who tried to convert you?”

“Yeah.  Taylor’s like fifteen, and I think she’s got a crush on me.  Since that night she keeps finding excuses to call the restaurant when I’m working, like asking if Bree told me something, or whatever, and she tries to chat about deep things.  And yesterday she actually came to the store–I think she took the bus–to make some excuse to hang around me.  I don’t know what to do.  I think she needs to find friends who aren’t hard-core Christians, but trying to hook up with me just to piss off her parents is going to end really, really badly.  So anyway, hanging out with Taylor is kind of bad juju.  But seriously, I should go.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hold you up.  Be careful,” Aunt Andrea said, and went back to her crossword.

Something about driving was conducive to thought, and to making decisions.  She hadn’t gone ten miles before she decided that yes, she was definitely moving out in the near future.  The appearance of Mary the cockapoo had probably been a factor too, but Dori didn’t think she could have actually made the resolution if she had been sitting in the living room with Aunt Andrea.  In the darkened car, though, with music playing near club volumes, it was easy.  She was more than old enough, she ought to move out.  Which would be interesting, considering that Dori didn’t own enough stuff to fill an apartment.  The furniture in her bedroom wasn’t even hers.  Maybe Aunt Andrea and Uncle Carl would let her have it.

Shit, maybe she didn’t even want it.

Sigue-Sigue and Vim were on, so Dori listened to WHMH.  The DJ’s popularity had risen after the blizzard debacle, not surprisingly.  “Tonight’s Mile High Theater is brought to you courtesy of Van Halen, Vim,” she was saying, “because of what they did to David Lee Roth at the VMAs.”  Dori frowned, then remembered that Van Halen had appeared with David Lee Roth at the MTV Video Music awards a month ago and said that he was rejoining the band, then turned around and changed their minds two weeks later.  Considering that David Lee Roth hadn’t had much of a serious career since they had kicked him out the first time, it seemed kind of a cold-blooded thing to do.  Apparently Sigue-Sigue agreed.  “It’s your turn this week.  Wanna hear my challenge?”

“Van Halen related, I’m sure,” Vim purred.  “Hit me.”

“Your Mile High Theater song this week is ‘Panama,'” Sigue-Sigue said proudly.

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding.”

“I am not.  Remember, if you finish the song, Troy in Waterford gets the tickets.  If you don’t, it’s my player, Michelle from Roseville.  Evertbody ready?”  The first few bars of “Panama” began playing.  Dori tilted her head at the radio.  What was going on?

It was clear a moment later.  There was a faint sucking sound, and then, just when the vocals should have come in, someone else began singing the song in an impossibly high-pitched voice.  It took Dori a moment to figure out that Vim was imbibing helium and singing the song.  At the end of the verse, he took another deep breath to keep his voice high.  It had to be a difficult task to do it without laughing–especially with Sigue-Sigue and the two listeners giggling in the background.  Shit, was that much helium even healthy?  Dori found herself laughing anyway; it sounded too goddamn funny.

Vim succumbed to giggles in the middle of the song, and Sigue-Sigue announced that Michelle from Roseville was the winner.

Smiling at the radio hilarity, Dori let her thoughts drift over her problems some more, noticing absently that she was driving toward Ypsilanti, and Pandora’s–force of habit, she supposed–and thought about the Chris Sinclair issue.  If people were going to harass her, she ought to call a lawyer.  She disliked the idea of suing anybody; there was something annoyingly trendy about it.  But fuck it, maybe the paper could print a retraction or something.  Better to do that than wait until some football freak put her in the hospital.  Even if it was an accident.

WHMH was playing Bauhaus, which was more than a little bit unusual but also a good thing, so Dori turned it up and turned her brain off so she could sing in her less-than-spectacular voice.

She was most of the way through the last chorus of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” when a car ran a red light and drilled the passenger side of her Neon at about sixty miles per hour.