More and more. Don’t you just love how when you start writing, you can’t stop until the story is done? Like the little engine: “I-think-I-can, I think-I-can.”
If you missed Part 1, click the link: https://saradobie.wordpress.com/2009/05/12/new-short-story-all-the-crawling-beetles-part-1/. (And the WordPress text is kind of small, so if you want bigger text, go see me on LiveJournal: http://saradobie.livejournal.com.) Then, come back for Part 2. The whole thing will eventually be posted on the Dobie’s Stories page.
All the Crawling Beetles, Part 2
A week before the magnolia tree, I walked into Tequila Burrito downtown on Wentworth at seven o’clock. As I walked inside, I realized the mistake I’d made. It was, after all, Cinco de Mayo.
“Shit,” I muttered. To think, I’d only wanted some chips and salsa.
The place was packed, and it didn’t even feel big when it was empty. It was a locally owned chain; there were three other locations spread around Charleston and over onto the islands along the Atlantic coast. You ordered food at the counter, and happy hippy waiters and waitresses brought completed orders to your table. My favorite part about the place was the bottomless chip baskets and salsa bar. And the margaritas. Which were all I wanted, but with a glance toward where the bar should have been, I had a funny feeling that was impossible. I couldn’t even see the bar. People were in front of it, behind it, and on the side of it. If monkeys had been swinging from the rafters, I wouldn’t have been surprised. There went my hope for an early evening buzz.
People were everywhere as I slid into the crowd. A girl in a strapless dress and a huge Mexican hat stepped on my toe and didn’t apologize. I shoved past her, noting the colorful streamers hung in strips across the high ceilings. Mexican flags were on the walls, and their similarity in color reminded me of the Italian flag that hung in my parents’ home up north. I could smell burritos, although that night, I would never actually eat anything.
My phone vibrated in my purse, so I paused within the madness. I glanced at the new text message from Emma: “Where are you? Tommy is here. Hope that’s okay.”
I sighed. Of course, that was okay. Tommy was Emma’s best friend, regardless of my history with the guy.
I glanced up, because the sound of her voice was better than the silence of a text.
“Hey,” I replied, and glory of glories, she had a table. I leaned forward and gave her a hug. I didn’t need to bend over, because Emma had grabbed one of the high tops, complete with three bar stools. She was dressed up, in a sense. Often when I saw Emma, it was after she’d been running. She loved to run, and she had the calf muscles to prove it. That night, she was wearing a sleeveless sun dress and sandals. Her light red hair was swept into a high ponytail above her freckled forehead, and her petit fingers wrapped around a watered-down margarita.
“How are you?” she asked, but her light blue eyes were sweeping the room.
“I’m good,” I said, nodding, because that was the polite answer in a social scenario. I could not say, Well, I actually had a terrible day at the office, I miss my ex-boyfriend, and I kind of want to curl into fetal position and cry. No, I couldn’t very well say that. “I’m going to get a beer.”
“Good luck. It’s like a battle zone over there.”
“Great,” I whispered.
She smiled at me, because she knew it had been a rough couple weeks. Emma did her best to be positive around me since “the break up,” but it made me feel guilty. After all, how good were things for Emma? She had recently lost her job, and there was no new job in sight. Her family was in the midst of a fight over her father’s drinking, and her huge, orange tabby cat was ill. Yet, there she was at Tequila Burrito, smiling for Sara, God bless her.
I had to do something of a tiptoe jig to get past a group of dancers near the bar. They were moving to the quiet cover band in the front corner of the restaurant. The acoustic guitar and bongos barely rose about the mêlée, yet the drunken wavelength sensed rhythm like dolphins with sonar waves.
Emma had been right about the war zone comment; there wasn’t an empty space at the bar, and that included elbow room. It was hopeless, and I cursed myself for not having worn taller shoes to get my shoulders above average height.
Of course, then there was Tommy. I saw him before he saw me, because he was busy staring at the bartender. I used a similar technique—reach deep for Jedi mind control and use psychic power to get beer. It rarely worked. I sighed and stepped to his side.
“Hey, Tom,” I said, touching his upper arm. Around Charleston, people called him “Tommy.” Emma called him “Tommy.” I was the only person on earth who called him “Tom,” and that was only because it was what I’d called him in bed, because no one has great sex with a “Tommy.”
He replied with a nod, and we didn’t hug. We never hugged, but it wasn’t because we didn’t like each other. We were just friends, despite his occasional drunk text, asking me to come over at 2 AM and perform sexual favors.
“Get me a beer,” I said, holding a ten-dollar bill under his nose.
He glanced down at me, and those huge brown eyes were tractor beams.
When I’d met Tom the summer before, the first words he’d said were, “You’re not going to like me.” At the time, I’d laughed at the comment, but once I’d gotten to know him, I’d realized the statement was true. I hadn’t liked him after we’d slept together. Then, I had sort of liked him, once we’d decided to be friends.
That being said, Tom was hard to have as a friend. The only long-term female friend of his was Emma, and that was because she had a serious boyfriend. Being a single woman around Tom made friendship difficult. Looking up at his six-three surfer body at Tequila Burrito, I was reminded why.
Even with that day’s lazy facial hair and t-shirt fashion statement, Tom still managed magnetism. He had been a server at one of Charleston’s swanky downtown eateries for three years until two Saturdays prior, when he’d quit to prepare for a sudden and unexpected move to California. At the restaurant, he had been the king of up-sell, and he had a rolodex of business cards from female patrons, half of whom he’d bedded before their food had fully digested.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“Whatever’s cheap,” I replied. “And get three of them.” All for me.
He turned around, and the Jedi mind trick must have worked, because we had the beers in seconds. I held two wet Pacifico bottles in one hand and started to chug the third. It was cold and not really that good. However, it was beer, and right then, I needed beer. I didn’t wait for Tom. I headed back to the table and plopped down across from Emma.
“Jesus, that took forever,” she said.
I kept chugging. I finished my first beer before Tom had settled into his seat at my side. “That’s why I got three,” I said.
“Smart girl,” she replied, and she nibbled on her fingernails.
“Hungry?” I asked.
“I’m starving,” she said.
“Do you want to order food?”
“No,” she said. “Trying to save money.”
I shrugged. Liquid diet, it was. “How’s the job search?”
“Hasn’t started. I’ve been too busy babysitting.”
After losing her job, Emma had agreed to baby sit for a friend of a friend. The friend of a friend was a single mom with a two-year-old girl. The pay was terrible, and it wouldn’t have gone on long if it hadn’t been for the creepy neighbor who had previously cared for the kid. The two-year-old had said something about “He touched me in a funny place,” and that had been it. The single mom had taken days off work to care for the little creature, but that meant no income for Mommy. Emma had come along—friend of a friend—and offered to help. The pay really was awful, but Emma considered it a “good cause.” I considered it Emma’s “volunteer work.”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do yet,” she continued. “I may have found a part-time bookkeeping gig at this coffee shop by my house, which includes taking care of the owner’s little boy while I do the bookkeeping.”
“That sounds good,” I said, because any income was good income.
“Yeah.” She shrugged. “I don’t want to talk about me anymore. Tell me more about San Francisco,” she said, turning toward Tom. He shifted in his seat to face her. Sometimes when he sat with one leg crossed over his knee, he reminded me of a giraffe.
“It’s awesome,” he said, looking first at Emma, then at me. He was drunker than I’d realized; I could see it in the way his eyelashes pointed straight out instead of up, over his half-mast eyes. “It’s the most beautiful city in the world.”
“Hey, Charleston is the most beautiful city in the world.” I meant it.
“I love it out there,” he said. I wondered how much drunken Tom ever listened to other people or if it was just me that he ignored. “I can’t wait to move.”
“I can’t believe you’re leaving,” Emma pouted.
He didn’t reply. He glanced toward the door to watch three new female arrivals presumably search for their party.
“Tommy has a hickey,” Emma said.
“Oh, my God.” I rolled my eyes.
“Look right, so Sara can see it,” she said, poking a finger into his shoulder.
“No,” he replied, glancing at me. “Where have you been anyway?” he said. “The last time I saw you was at the restaurant. You were with that guy. Is he cool?”
“Aidan, right? He seems like a cool guy.”
“We broke up last week. And yes, he was a really cool guy.”
“What do you mean, you broke up? How long were you seeing the guy?”
Tom leaned back in his seat. His hand closed around his beer, and he nodded. “That’s a long time.”
Was it, I wondered?
“That’s okay.” I lifted my second beer. “I’m drinking it away.”
“That’s what I usually do, too.”
Tom nodded, but his demeanor had shifted. Instead of leaning back in his seat with one leg crossed, he was leaning forward with his elbows on the edge of the table. His head was tilted toward Emma, but his eyes were toward me. His full lips were pressed together, but the outsides of his mouth were turned up in a soft smile.
Christ, I knew this look. I knew this look from before we’d slept together. I knew this look from the year before when I’d broken up with a boyfriend. Tom had been there that night; we had been in Tom’s bed, and it had all happened because of “that last break up.”
“Sara,” Emma yelled.
I instinctively hunched over in my chair, looking away from Tom. Instead, I was certain Aidan had just walked through the door of Tequila Burrito, wearing his Miami Dolphins hat and wire-rims. I was certain I was about to be crushed.
“Why don’t we get some chips?” Emma said.
“I thought we were saving money,” I replied, still hunched forward.
“But I’m hungry. Go get chips.”
I didn’t ask any questions. Tom’s look was forgotten, and I was just relieved that my initial conclusion had been incorrect. I got up and headed to the counter to get us some chips. The chalkboards with hand-written Daily Specials were smudged and illegible. Thanks to Cinco de Mayo, it appeared that half the specials were sold out. The food specials had been replaced by beer specials, but I had faith that chips were still available. I ordered our bottomless basket of warm, salty tortillas. When I returned to our table, Tom was gone, and Emma was back to biting her nails.
“No more finger chewing,” I said.
She grabbed my wrist from across the table. “Don’t let Tommy hurt you again.”
I wasn’t upset by this. I wasn’t angry. I said, “I won’t,” knowing that after we’d had that one night of meaningless sex, Tom had ended up hurting me. He hadn’t meant to; I don’t suppose they ever do.
Part 3 will be up tomorrow. It’ll all be done by Saturday. Keep an eye out. Leave some comments. Love me some comments.