It was almost ten o'clock before Orli got back from his 'supply run' and by that time Eliza was ready to take a baseball bat to him. She'd been stuck in the trailer all fuckin' afternoon and night, and momma was about to drive her over the edge. Seems momma's personal form of happiness - Xanax and Seven and Seven's - weren't workin' all that well tonight, and she'd bitched endlessly about her job and her weight and her lame-ass boyfriend until Eliza wanted to take a bat to her, too.
She'd figured out that even a dedicated smoker could only suck so many down in one night and now, standing on the front steps and watching the truck's headlights sweep up the curve of the street and turn into their rutted little excuse for a drive, Eliza was seriously thinking about quitting. Her throat hurt from hot-boxing cigarettes and her head was pounding.
"Jesus fuckin' Christ, Orli!" she hollered, the minute his foot cleared the door. "Take all fuckin' night, why don'cha!"
"Man, it wasn't my fault! Nicky was actin' like a fool, almost got us in trouble with Sheriff Kane an' then -" Orli leaned back into the cab and hauled out a huge handful of yellow 'Dollar General Store' bags. "Then, when we were down in Hyperion county that fucker Lindsey - he wanted to be all 'this is my turf' or some shit. Had to take him down a notch or two." Eliza suddenly noticed that Orli's t-shirt was ripped and his knuckles scuffed. And his eyes, in the light from the porch were bloodshot with pupils so tiny they might as well not be there. Fuckin' tweaked.
"So you went out an' got fucked up and got in a fight and just forgot that I was waitin' here all fuckin' night?"
"C'mon, Eliza," Orli wheedled, shifting the sacks around in his hands. "I didn't forget, I just - lemme in, okay? These damn bags are cuttin' into my hands." Eliza glared at him and then tossed her cigarette butt out towards the gravel-and-weed strip of road-side verge that served as their front lawn.
"Fine. But you owe me, you fucker. And there better be gas in the truck."
"Yeah, I think so," Orli mumbled, and Eliza just bet there wasn't. She followed Orli inside and watched him pile the bags on the couch. They were his cooking supplies. He had to go to ten different Dollar stores to get 'em, since the cops had got this 'Meth Watch' kick going and if you went into a place and bought ten packs of Sudafed and what all all at once, you'd get busted or the store would refuse to sell to you.
So Orli and Nicky got around that by driving to every Dollar store and Wal-Mart in the tri-county, and sometimes payin' little kids a buck or two to go in and grab a half-dozen bottles of whatever for them. It worked, but it took time and Orli and Nicky got bored, drivin' around, so they'd come back all tweaked most times, tweaked and red-lipped from given' each other blow-jobs in the truck while they waited.
Orli was looking in all the bags - fuck, he'd checked some twice already - and he was shifting around like he had to take a piss and mumbling under his breath.
"Orli, you're too fucked up to do this tonight. Why'nt you leave it for in the morning and I'll come help you, huh? Gimmie the keys, okay? I gotta get outta here 'for momma makes me go crazy.
"Momma's home?" Orli asked, swinging around and looking at her, digging into his pocket for the keys.
"Yeah, she's home and she's PMSin' or some shit and she won't fuckin' shut up. Been watchin' the Home Shoppin' Channel and bitchen' about how fucked up her life is all night." Eliza rolled her eyes and Orli grimaced. Momma was a real pain when she got on the 'poor pitiful me' kick - laid in bed with the TV on and ate Ritz crackers and Velveeta all night.
"Shit. Yeah, okay, I'm gonna - I'm gonna..." Orli was holding the keys out but he was shuffling towards the kitchen and Eliza stomped after him. "Oh fuck, 'Liza, you let her cook!"
"I didn't let her, she just did it. Fuckin' burned it, too." The remains of the spaghetti and meatballs Momma had tried to make were all over the place, and Eliza had to grin at that. 'Cause when Orli tweaked hard he had trouble telling a cockroach from a raisin and the state of the kitchen was gonna drive him nuts. He'd 'bout bleached all the pattern off the worn linoleum in there - which was good, 'cause orange and brown checks was the fuckin' ugliest thing Eliza had ever seen - and the shit-brown cabinets were pale beige now from his repeated attacks with bleach, Lysol, and scrubbing brush. They had the cleanest trailer in Buena Vista and Eliza hadn't scrubbed a toilet in three years, which was all good.
"Man, this is gonna take forever to clean up!" Eliza snatched the keys out of his lax hand while he stared at the crusted pans and splatters of orange sauce.
"I'm gonna go get me a couple drinks and find somebody to take me for a ride. I'll be back later, hon," Eliza said, walking out fast before Orli asked her to help.
"Hey! 'Liza, wait, I got you something!" Orli darted back into the front room and started pawing through bags, and a minute later he's holding out a Zero candy bar, grinnin' like a fool. Eliza loved those when she was a kid, but she don't eat candy much any more on account of her back teeth scream somethin' fierce when she does. But Orli don't know that, or he forgot, so she took it and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
"Thanks, sweetie. I'll see you later, huh?"
"Yeah, have fun," Orli said, his eyes already going back to stare at the mess in the kitchen and Eliza skated on outta there, leavin' him to it.
She got in the truck and rolled the windows down, 'cause it stinks like crack and a dirty ashtray and Nicky's fuckin' feet in there. She's wearin' her favorite old cut-offs and her little black spaghetti-strap t-shirt that says 'Satan's Angel' on the front in red sparkly letters. She got it up in Springfield last year when she took a trip with Orli to see about a brand new formula for the product. Formula turned out to be shit but she and Orli had had a blast at the hotel; skinny-dippin' in the pool at midnight and orderin' room service and shit. Orli'd had some credit card or other that he'd swiped from somebody and they'd ditched it out the truck window halfway home, yellin' 'Thank you, Erwin Prescott!' to the unlucky card-holder who's name had been stamped on the front. Good thing Jimmy did such good fake I.D.s or they'd have been in sleeping bags at the KOA.
She drove kinda slow, just enjoying the feel of the humid air slipping over her arms and pushing her hair back. She likes driving - likes the freedom and the solitude and she likes puttin' on the radio and singing along with Shania or Pink or Nelly, whatever she's in the mood for that day. She's got her eye on a sweet little Maverick over at the garage Dave's dad owns. She knows what his dad does to the cars but she also knows if she drops a word in Dave's ear he'll make sure the cars workin' right. Only six hundred bucks and it's all hers, and no more sharing a ride with Orli. So she'd actually went out and got her a job this summer.
Went over to Crazy Alex and told him she needed to make some money. He worked for the ASPCA, manning the big furnace they used to burn up the bodies of all the cats and dogs they gassed. He cleaned up the kennels and cages, too, and sometimes helped when they had to go rescue a balky, half-starved horse or some abandoned livestock.
He'd looked her up and down and muttered something about creatures of the night and bloodsucking fiends and Eliza knew his personal kink was he thought there were vampires and shit everywhere. She didn't know much about that kinda stuff but she did know vamps couldn’t go out in the day so she'd stepped into a patch of sunlight and told him she was human and could she please just get a fuckin' job, you fuckin' nutcase.
He'd been a little pissed off but he'd told here there was something, so that's how Eliza ended up drivin' all over the county this summer in a big white 'City of' truck, pickin' up dead animals off'a the road. She had a shovel and these big tongs and elbow-length rubber gloves and a mask like a doctor wore. At first it was really gross and she didn't think she could do it, but after a while she got used to it. She hated to see a dead dog or cat on the side of the road, anyway - half squashed and all bloated out, getting killed over and over when some dumb fuck would deliberately drive over them.
And she had a full hour for lunch so she'd drive over to Clover Lake or the Point, spread an old Army blanket out on the hood of the truck and just work on not havin' any tan-lines. Bakin' herself like a chicken and it felt so good. And Orli'd told her she looked hot in those stupid khaki shorts and work-boots, so that was okay.
She was headin' over to Greene County tonight - new bar she wanted to try out - some new faces too, maybe. While she was drivin' up and down Lee Street, lookin' for it she saw a Seven-Eleven and decided to pull in and get some more smokes and a lemonade or something, ask directions. But when she walked in she just had to stop and stare at the girl behind the counter.
"Eliza?" the girl said, and Eliza felt this huge grin on her face.
"Sarah Michelle! Oh my god! What are you doin' here, girl! I thought you got packed off to fuckin' Dallas or Valdosta or some shit!" Eliza leaned over the counter, hugging the other girl hard. She and Sarah had been best friends until eighth grade. Then Sarah confessed that she'd never given a boy a blow-job and she wanted to learn how. So she'd been practicing on Orli and Eliza had been tellin' her what to do when her dad had busted in, screamin' like a woman. He was one'a them crazy kinda Baptists and he'd hauled Sarah outta there by her hair, wailin' about hell fire and whores and some cousin somewhere who'd teach her the ways of the Lord. And she hadn't seen her since.
"I was! For a while. But I ran away. Those people were crazy! Snake-handlin', speakin' in tongues - no dancing or drinking or anything and my stupid cousin VerLee wouldn't let me wear shorts or nothin'!" Sarah was grinning that same huge grin Eliza could feel on her own face and man, did she look good! Thinner and her dark-brown hair dyed to a streaky gold.
"Damn, girl, you look good! How late you workin' tonight? There's this new bar I wanted to try out - around here somewhere -"
"Oh," Sarah said, and she looked a little sad. "I get off in about ten minutes. But I can't go out tonight... Why'nt you come on over to my place for a while? I live about five blocks over, you can have a beer with me, catch up a little." Sarah looked hopeful and a little scared at the same time and Eliza looked at her for a second, and then just grinned again.
"Sure thing, girl! Lemme get my smokes." Sarah got her a three-pack of Winston Lights and wouldn't let her pay, and then ten minutes later they were walking out the door, chattering away as if they'd never been separated for goin' on four years. Eliza felt that same jumpy, happy energy she always felt when she was around Sarah. They'd shared everything - done everything together - and it was like having a lost eye grow back or something. Eliza just felt - complete.
They drove over to Sarah's place - 'I usually walk, tryin' to save on gas,' - and it was a park just like Buena Vista only the kids and folks sittin' outside were a mix of Mexican and black and Eliza suddenly felt awfully pale.
"This where you live?" she asked doubtfully, pulling up in front of a blue and white single-wide, and Sarah nodded happily.
"Yeah - this is my place. In my name and everything!" She was grinning and Eliza grinned back, shrugging off the neighbors. A round, dark face was looking out the front room window and Eliza blinked in surprise.
"Sarah, there's a black lady in your front room."
"That's Mrs. Stuckey. She's helpin' me out tonight. I usually work just the 7 to 3 shift but I wanted to pick up some extra cash. C'mon in, 'Liza." Sarah bounced up the front steps and opened the door, and Mrs. Stuckey walked out as they walked in.
"He's been nuth'in but a sweet l'il angel all night, honey," she said, and Sarah smiled and patted her arm.
"Thanks Vi! I really 'preciate it."
"Sure thing, honey. 'Night now."
"'Night, Vi." Eliza smiled a little at Mrs. Stuckey and then followed Sarah in and she shut the door.
"Home sweet home!" Sarah said. "C'mon - want you to see something." She put her finger to her lips and beckoned, and Eliza followed her down the hall to a bedroom. There was a soft light burning on the dresser and Eliza saw a playpen in the corner, mounded with animals and blankets. They tiptoed over to the side and looked down.
A little boy lay there, on his back, one arm flung out, the other clutching a stuffed lion. His dark, curly hair was mussed and his little pink mouth was open and he breathed softly. He had on tiny little white underpants and a 'Scooby Doo' t-shirt and he was the cutest little thing Eliza had ever seen. He was the color of coffee when you put in real cream, and Eliza wondered how that had happened.
"His name's August," Sarah whispered. She was smiling with joy and pride and Eliza watched her bend down and kiss the plumply rounded cheek. Then they tiptoed back out Sarah grabbed a couple of beers out of the 'fridge. They both flopped down on the couch.
"Sarah, you got a baby! I can't believe it. How old is he?"
"Almost two. He's the sweetest thing - just laughs all the time, no trouble at all." Sarah was smiling but she looked a little sad, too, and Eliza leaned against her, putting her head on her shoulder and lacing the fingers of their hands together on Sarah's thigh.
"Tell me all about it, sweetie," Eliza said, and Sarah did. Run off from the crazy Valdosta cousins, headed straight back home. Told her daddy she was 'born again' and just wanted to be with home-folks, and he let her. Then she met this guy - Jay. Big black man, bald as an egg and sweet as cotton candy, and before you know it her belly was pushin' up and her daddy was goin' nuts again. When the baby was born that'd been that - he'd thrown her out.
Eliza got that - Sarah's daddy hated everything and everyone that wasn't as god-fearing, as white, and as shit-stupid as he was, and Sarah was lucky he didn't snatch little August and leave him at the police station or something.
"August is his daddy's middle name. He works down in the Gulf, out on one'a those oil rigs? He sends me money every month. He'll be out there 'til...September, I guess." Sarah sighed, and Eliza twisted around, getting her head in Sarah's lap and reaching up to stroke the blonde hair.
"You must get pretty tired of bein' out here all by your lonesome," Eliza said, and Sarah nodded, her eyes glimmering with tears.
"Yeah, I do. I mean, he writes sometimes and once a month he'll call, but - it's hard."
"Poor baby girl," Eliza said, and reached up and tugged Sarah down and kissed her. It was as sweet as the first kiss they'd ever shared, and as Sarah's hand slipped down to rest on Eliza's belly, Eliza was pretty sure she was gonna get to know August and Mrs. Stuckey real, real well.