“You also left without telling me about game night.”
He glances at Scott and Kenny. “Maybe later,” he says.
“That’s what you said before.”
“And my offer still stands.” He leans closer and whispers, “Quid pro quo, Clarice.”
Not that again. He’s not Silence of the Lambs—ing me into confessing about Alex. No way, no how. I try another tactic. “You go first, then I’ll consider telling you.”
“Bailey,” he says again, like it’s some kind of coded warning I should understand. “You really don’t want to do this here.” He glances at the two boys.
It hits me like a physical blow that he’s using evasion techniques against me. From the moment all of this happened on game night with the fake text message—because it was fake, wasn’t it?—to the distraction of The Philadelphia Story, until right now, when conveniently he is surrounded by people and therefore cannot discuss the matter.
Is this what it feels like to be Artful Dodgered? Because it sucks, big-time.
Porter clears his throat. “I’ve, uh, got to get them to cash-out, but—”
“No,” I say, cutting him off. I realize I sound unreasonable now, and I’m mildly embarrassed that I’m raising my voice in front of Tweedledee and Tweedledum—but I just can’t stop myself. “I need to know what happened on game night.”
“Hey. We’ll talk later. Trust me, okay?”
“Oh, are we on your schedule now? If Porter deigns to dole out a crumb? I’m just supposed to wait around for you like some well-behaved puppy dog?”
His face darkens. “I never said that. I just asked you to trust me.”
“Give me a reason to.”
His head jerks back as if I’ve slapped him, and then his face turns stony. “I thought I already had.”
My chest tightens, and I suddenly wish I could take it all back. I don’t want to fight with him. I just want things to go back to how they were before that night, when everything changed. As he walks off with the idiots, I hear Kenny say, “Damn, Roth. You’ve always got hot girls chasing after you. I need to start surfing.”
“Yeah, but they’re always whiners, and who needs that drama?” Scott says. “Bitches are crazy.”
Porter chuckles. Chuckles!
Suddenly, I’m Alice in Wonderland, falling through a rabbit hole, watching the beautiful memories from the last couple of months pass me by as I descend into madness. And walking away from me is the old Porter Roth, the stupid surfer boy that I loathed. The one who humiliated me.
I pound on the Hotbox door. Grace swings it open, her face pinched with concern. I don’t have time to explain; the line is long, and she’s inserted my cash drawer, readying everything for me to start.
Ugh. It’s already a million degrees in here. My chest is swelling with confusion and hurt, emotions rising with each passing second.
“Two tickets.” Some stoner boy with shaggy blond hair is standing outside my window with some girl, giving me an I don’t have all day look. I stare back at him. I think I’ve forgotten how to use the computer. I’m beginning to go numb.
“What the hell is going on?” Grace whispers, tapping me on the arm. “Are you still sick? Are you okay?”
No, I’m not okay. I’m not okay at all. I can’t get enough air though my nostrils. Part of me blames Porter for making me feel this way. But once the shock of him laughing at that sexist comment wears off, I’m still left with the sinking feeling that the root of our fight is actually my fault, and I can’t figure out why.
What did I do wrong on game night? He said it was just a misunderstanding, but that feels like a cover-up. Because something upset him, badly, and he blamed me for it that night. And now I feel so completely stupid, because I don’t know what I did, and he won’t tell me.
It’s like I’m staring at a giant jigsaw puzzle and there’s one piece missing, and I’m scrambling to find it—looking in all the sofa cushions, under the table, under the rug, checking the empty box.
WHERE IS THAT PUZZLE PIECE?!
“Yo, I said two tickets,” the boy at the window enunciates, like I’m stupid. Is that a surf company logo on his T-shirt? Is this . . . one of the trashy creeps who was hanging out with Davy at the posole truck? Who was being all disgusting, harassing those girls in front of my dad and Wanda? Oh, wonderful. Just freaking terrific. “Anyone home in there? I’m not standing here for my health, babe.”
Camel’s back, meet straw.
I’m not quite sure what happens next.
A strange heat rushes through my head—some sort of stress-induced overload, brought about through trying to determine what happened with Porter . . . heart hurting over our fight, over his reaction to Scott’s sexist comment. And all of it is topped off with the rotting cherry that is this jerk standing here now.
Or maybe, just maybe, after a long summer, the Hotbox finally gets the better of me.
All I know is that something breaks inside my brain.
I switch on my microphone. “You want tickets? Here you go.”
In a manic fit, I pop open the printer, rip out the folded pack of blank ticket paper, and begin feeding it through the slot—shove, shove, shove, shove! It waterfalls from the other side like the guy just won a million Skee-Ball tickets at an arcade.
“Have all the tickets you want,” I say into the microphone. “Bitches are crazy.”
Creeper dude looks stunned. But not as stunned as Mr. Cavadini, whose face appears next to his. Cavadini is holding his clipboard, doing his rounds. His gaze shifts from the pile of bent-up tickets on the ground to me, and he’s horrified. Customer service nightmare.
To Davy’s friend, he says: “Let me take care of this, and comp your attendance today.” And he gestures for someone to let the guy’s party through and clean up the pile of blank tickets.
To me, he says: “What in blazes is the matter with you, young lady? Have you lost your mind?” His nose is pressed against the Hotbox’s glass. His face is so red, his Cave tie looks like it might cut off circulation and strangle him.
“I’m really sorry,” I whisper into the microphone, gripping it with both hands as ugly tears stream down my cheeks, “but I sort of have lost my mind.”
“Well,” Mr. Cavadini says, unmoved by my pitiful display of emotion, “you’ll have plenty of time to find it in your free time, because you’re fired.”
“I hate to shatter your ego, but this is not the first time I’ve had a gun pointed at me.”
—Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction (1994)
I don’t make a scene. I just clean out my locker, clock out, and leave while everyone gawks at me in silence. When Porter calls my name across the parking lot, I refuse to turn around. Helmet on. Kickstand up. Keys in ignition. I’m gone. The Cavern Palace is now a “was.” I no longer have a summer job.
I consider not telling my dad about getting fired for about five minutes, but I’m tired of being a coward. Besides, he’d find out sooner or later. I wonder if the Pancake Shack is hiring.
Grace comes over to my house after her shift and I tell her the whole thing, every bit of it and more. Before I know what I’m saying, I’m telling her about Greg Grumbacher and the CliffsNotes version of how I got shot. How Porter was the first person I really told, and now look—just look!—where that trust got me. And sure, I was talking to some guy online before I moved here, and yes, I had planned to meet him, but we don’t talk anymore, and NOTHING HAPPENED, and that’s none of Porter’s business. It’s no one’s business but mine.