25: Push Rocket

Brian wanted to come, but he had some other unspecified thing to do.  Liz, on the other hand, seemed perfectly cool with the idea of taking her only day of the week off to wander around with Dori on her random business.

This didn’t make her feel any less weird.  But then, it was probably going to be a weird day–she was on her way out to try and intimidate a newspaper, after all.

Dori picked Liz up at her apartment.  She offered to drive, but Liz’ car was tiny.  Dori didn’t feel like riding in anything smaller than her big old car just yet.  They compromised, and Liz drove Dori’s car.

“This is working up to be the weirdest day imaginable,” she said as they pulled away from the apartment.

“If each day gets successively weirder, imagine how famous you’ll be by Christmas,” Liz said.

“Or dead,” Dori added.

“That’s not a good way to think.  Nikki’s got the right idea, your dealing with this.”

“I guess.” Dori opened her purse, rummaged around and found a small bag of Jelly Bellies, and offered Liz some.  “She has lots of right ideas.  I don’t know why, but Nikki makes me feel empowered and shit.  I’m glad she’s going to be around.”

“Me, too.”

“Everyone else I know gets on my nerves and they don’t ever help me or add anything to my life.  Well, that’s not quite true, Brian would have helped, but he had stuff to do.  And except for you, I guess, you’re helping.  Thanks for coming.  I guess I’m being kind of rude.”

Liz smiled.  “I’m sure Brian would have given you the same advice Nikki did.”

“Maybe.  But even if he did, I wouldn’t be allowed to listen to it.  He’s a guy,” she joked.  “Anyway, I wouldn’t have been able to believe him if he tried to talk me into going to threaten legal action.  Is that even something I’m allowed to seriously do?  It’s weird to think about.”  Dori got a popcorn-flavored Jelly Belly, made a face, and rolled the window down to spit it out.  The blast of winter air numbed her nose but it was worth it to get rid of the taste.

“I’ve never done anything like this before, either.”

It wasn’t that exciting, though.  They met big, important looking men who smelled of cologne (and one student editor) and received formal apologies and regrets.  There were promises of a retraction to be printed.  Dori guessed that Nikki’s phone call had smoothed a lot of potential rough spots, and the newspaper people had capitulated long before she’d arrived to sign paperwork and accept the settlement.

Settlement?  Yes, their lawyers would be in touch with her about it, but there was no denying that she was entitled, considering all that had happened.  The ten thousand dollars should cover any inconvenience or injury Dori had experienced.

It wasn’t until she got back to the car that she realized she couldn’t feel her feet.  “What just happened?” she asked Liz.

“You won,” was the matter-of-fact reply.

“Dude, I did.  I don’t think that ever happened before.”

“Well, it sounds like you went through a lot of shit for it.”

“I guess.  Now I don’t know what to do.”

“You could replace your car.”

“I like my old car.  I’m just going to get a kick-ass apartment.  Take Michigan Av’ so we can go to Pandora’s.  When we get there I’ll buy you lunch and we can look through this.”  She took the apartment guide out of her lunchbox-purse.  “I brought a Sharpie, we can mark it all up and go look at places.  I swear this is so fucked up, I’ve made more money from stupid escapades than from my own job this month.  I told you about the Korean War guys, right?  One of them gave me like three grand in cash.  And Smile’s new job is at a car stereo place that his cousin or something owns, so when he got my car fixed, he had this huge expensive radio put in it too.”  She indicated the new Pioneer CD changer head unit that looked utterly out of place in the elderly Oldsmobile’s dash.  “It’s just wrong.  I could go on this huge-ass spending spree, but there’s nothing I really want to buy.”

“You still need furniture, don’t you?”

“Oh, for the apartment.  That’s true.  I can’t think about shit like that without getting headaches.  I feel like I’m just barely in control of stuff.  It’s like I’ve been put in charge, and everything that happens is under my control, but I don’t remember any of the orders I make and so everything seems to be going by itself.”

Liz smiled again.  “You’re thinking about this too hard, Dori.  Shit happens, life goes on.  Every little thing you do doesn’t have to be like finding a cure for cancer.”

“I know,” she sighed.  “There are too many things changing at once, I guess.  Too much Pete Thomasson, too.”

“Who?”

“It’s a long story.  But I can’t even think straight thoughts any more, it’s just like something pressing at the back of my head and I can’t figure out what it is exactly.  Like I need to change something and I don’t know what it is.”

“Well, let me know if I can help you get back in your comfort–”

“Shit!” Dori shouted suddenly, lunging forward in her seat and then swiveling as they passed.  “Stop, stop!  No, go back!  Turn around!”

Liz slammed on the brakes, making the Oldsmobile lurch violently, and swung into a parking lot.

Dori was looking through the back window.  The girl at the bus stop had looked an awful lot like Taylor-there she was, that pink anorak, it was her.  The bus had just arrived, and she was getting on.  “It’s Taylor,” she said.

“Taylor who?”

“Bree’s little sister.  She ran away yesterday and her parents think that I took her for a sex slave or something, but I had no idea where she was.  Dude, I need to-”

Liz was already turning around.  “Follow that bus?” she asked with a smile.  The Oldsmobile waddled through a U-turn in the parking lot and back into traffic.

“So her folks think you’re sleeping with her?”

“Yeah.  But they’re these psycho born-again Christians, and they know I’m bi so it’s the sort of thing they would think.”

“Even if she wasn’t underage she’s not exactly your type.”

“Duh, that’s what I told them.”  Liz blew a stale yellow light to keep up with the bus.  It was a bit too stale, in fact; seconds later, a police car appeared behind them, lights ablaze.

Liz swore in a foreign language and pulled off into Comerica’s parking lot with a sigh.

“Sorry,” Dori said, watching the bus disappear over the next hill.  She wondered if she should tell the cop there was an underage runaway on the bus, or something.

“Next time, you drive,” she grumbled.

Liz didn’t actually get a ticket; she managed to drop the fact that her father was a cop, and got off with a warning.  Dori didn’t bring up Taylor again, and tried to forget about it for the time being.  She couldn’t help wondering where the bus was going, and where Taylor might have gotten off.  Maybe she could look at a bus map later.  At least the dumb kid wasn’t already dead or something.

In spite of not getting a ticket, Liz seemed kind of irritated the rest of the way to Pandora’s, only perking up after Dori bought (and made) his lunch.  “Okay, let’s look at the apartment book,” she said finally.  Dori took it out and let it fall open to no page in particular.  She slapped a green Sharpie down on the table next to it.

“I need to find a two-bedroom,” she said.  “Nikki’s going to live with me.”

“I know.”  Oh, right, of course she did.

“Dori,” one of the cooks called, “someone’s on the phone for you.”

She grimaced.  “Dammit, if shit would just slow down for one day I could maybe relax or something.”  She slid her chair noisily out and trudged around the counter.

It was Smile.  “Hi there,” he said, attempting and failing cheerfulness.  “Your aunt said you might be there.”

“No, she didn’t, she didn’t even know I was coming here.  Have you killed your brother yet?”

“Was thinking about it,” he said with more seriousness than she wanted to hear.  “What’s up?”

“Looking for an apartment.  Hanging out with Liz.  I just came here to get my schedule.”

“Oh.”  He was quiet for several seconds.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.  Just having a rough life, I guess.  How’s the stereo working?”

“Good,” she said even though one of the speakers was all staticky.  “I haven’t had it on much.  I’m kind of paranoid to drive with the radio on.  I’ll probably never be able to listen to ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ again without cringing right at the end, I’m like a big lab rat that’s been shocked too many times.”  She meant it to be funny, but Smile didn’t laugh.

“Yeah,” he said.

“So, um, how’s the new job?”

“Khalid told everyone why I’m working there.  So everyone thinks I’m a fuckup who can’t find his ass with both hands.  Someone’s always looking over my shoulder when I’m working, I can’t get five seconds by myself even though a cow could do this job.”

“I don’t think I could install a car stereo.  For what it’s worth.”

“Not much,” he said sourly.

“So what are you going to do next, then?”

Smile let out another harsh sigh.  “Now you sound like Khalid.”

“Sorry.”  It was a valid question, but Smile sounded so ragged and worn out she decided not to push the issue.

“I want to talk to you in person,” he said.  “When are you working?”

“Tonight.  But I could just come over, you know.”

“Don’t.  It’s really tense at my place now.  The energy sucks.”

She let that go, too.  “Okay, whatever.  I’ll be at the store from four till eleven, if you want to hop the bus.”

“I’ll get a ride or something,” he said, his voice a little bit brighter.  “See you later.”

Liz had watched the whole call.  She didn’t ask who it was, but the look on her face said that she hoped to be told.  “Smile,” Dori said.  “Getting by the best he can, I guess.”

“Smile is who?”

“Ex-boyfriend.”

“Something up with him?”

“I’m not sure.  I’ll see him later, and find out then.”  Sudden inspiration struck her.
“Hey, Bree,” she grabbed the girl as she went by on her way back to the prep area, “do you have a picture of your sister?”

Bree grimaced.  “I probably shouldn’t be talking to you,” she said.

“Dude, don’t be like that, I never touched her and your mom knows it.  If you have a picture of her, I might be able to help you guys find her.”  She didn’t want to tell Bree she’d seen Taylor getting on a bus to Ann Arbor, because that wouldn’t really help much.  “I might know some places she might have gone.”

“Where did you take her, when she stayed with you?”

“Nowhere.  But I know where people like you think someone like me would go, and I know that you and your family don’t want to go there looking for Taylor, especially if there’s a chance you might find her.  So, c’mon, just one picture.”

Bree looked from Dori to Liz and back, biting her lip.  “We just want her to come home,” she said.

“So do I.  She’s irritating but she’s kind of cool too, in a fifteen year-old way.  And I promise not to tell your mom you helped me.”  Dori gave Bree her best elfish smile.

“Don’t look at me,” Liz said.  “I agree with Dori.  Besides, you don’t even know me.”

“Okay,” she said, relenting.  “I’ll bring you one from home, later.  You’re working, right?”

“I wish everyone would quit reminding me,” Dori said.