Home > 99 Percent Mine(4)

99 Percent Mine(4)
Author: Sally Thorne

I patch her up, split our tips, and send her home early. “If you don’t want to come back, just text Anthony.” She tearfully nods.

She is the nicest girl, but for her sake I hope she quits. She might end up like me.

It’s almost ten P.M. The bar doesn’t close until four A.M., so the real bad bitches who do the graveyard shift arrive. They’re what I’ll become. I put my tips in my purse and we spend a few minutes talking over which douchebags in here to keep an eye on.

“Bye,” I tell Keith as I walk past his stool near the door, but he’s already hauling himself to his feet.

“You know the rules.”

“The rules here are bullshit.”

“That’s life,” he replies with a shrug.

“Who walks you to your car?” I watch him mull that over.

“You probably would.” He smiles at that realization. “If you ever want extra cash, I could probably hook you up with some security work. You’d be a natural.”

“I probably would be, but no.” I push through the front door, resigned to the fact that he’ll be behind me. I step out into a haze of cigarettes and exhaust fumes. “Seriously, you don’t know how much I hate you babying me.”

“I’ve got a fair idea,” Keith responds dryly. When I look back, he’s scanning the parking lot with practiced eyes. Something happened a long time back to a girl who worked here, long before my time, and the side alley feels tainted with an awful, shivery wrongness.

I give up and start walking. “Come on, guard dog, time for your walkies.”

Keith’s insanely long legs easily keep up with my irritated marching through the little groups of guys standing around near their bikes. Someone says, “Wait around a minute, babe.”

“I can’t tonight,” Keith replies in a girly voice, causing them all to crack up. “Are you okay, Darcy? You seem a little fragile.”

I shouldn’t underestimate how perceptive he can be. He watches people for a living.

“Ha, me? I’m fine. Thanks for before. Must be the best part of your job, watching them bounce across the concrete.” I dig in my bag. I don’t need a key clenched in my fist with a shadow this big.

“Not quite.” Keith leans an elbow on the roof of my car. He’s Sasquatch in size, on the handsome side of plain, and he has a gold ring. “By the way, I still owe you that twenty bucks from the other night. I wanted to say that I appreciated it … and thanks for listening.”

I feel bad now, because I wasn’t listening at all.

I checked the roster like a compulsive brownnoser, circling the fuckups and gaps, while Keith sat on a bar stool telling a story about his wife, mother-in-law, and a misplaced wallet. Something about sickness and working all the time. Some sighs and a drink coaster torn into tiny shreds. As doleful and sweet as he is, twenty bucks was a bargain price to end that conversation.

“Don’t worry about it.” I always get a proud swell in my chest when I’m generous. I wait, but Keith just keeps leaning. “Seriously, I don’t care about twenty bucks. You can buy me a drink to celebrate when I finally get out of this place. I’d better go. Wine doesn’t drink itself.”

“Could drink it in there,” he points out. “It’s a bar, you know.”

I make a face. “Like I’m going to breathe the same air as those dudes for longer than necessary.”

“I’ll get you a stool next to me,” he offers, but I shake my head.

“I do my best drinking at home on the couch. With no pants. And the Smiths getting me all nice and depressed.” That was a bit too honest.

I put my hand on my car door, but he just blows out a deep breath. He’s stalling for some reason. I’m beginning to think he’s working his way up to a bigger loan. “God, what is it? Spit it out.”

He squints up at the stars. “So, some night, huh?”

I put my hand on my hip. “Keith, you’re being really weird. Please stop crushing my car.”

“You feel it, right?” He looks down at me in a strange way. Sort of like he needs to sneeze.

“A stampede of dinosaurs?” I don’t make him smile. He just keeps looking at me and he won’t let me leave. “What? What am I supposed to be feeling?”

“Me and you. This.” He points between us.

Shock plus surprise equals anger. “Keith, what the hell.”

“You look at me a lot.”

“Because you’re the bulletproof vest we keep on the stool by the door. No, don’t even try.” I snatch my arm back when he reaches for it. “I bet your wife would be real impressed with you.” Unfaithfulness is the most abhorrent thing I can think of, because it’s the opposite of weddings—and that’s what I’ve marinated myself in for years. Someone promises to love you forever, and then you go staring at girls at work? “Fuck you, Keith, seriously.”

He slumps, hand on the back of his neck, the picture of misery. “She’s barely got any time for me since her mom got sick. I feel like you and I have a connection, you know?”

“Because we were friends. Were.” I wrench open my car door and feel a spike of fear when his hand wraps my wrist, holding me in place. I pull and he gets tighter. I get angrier and pull harder. My wrist is burning worse than when Jamie twisted it on purpose when we were kids. But I want it to hurt. Better than standing still.

“If you would just listen—” Keith tries, but my skin is too soft for him to retain any purchase on, and I slip out of his grip like a silk scarf. The parking lot is now inexplicably deserted. My heart rate perks up, like a guy looking over the top of his newspaper: What’s going on here? If it craps out on me now I am going to be furious.

I point my finger at Keith’s face. “I thought you were one of the good ones. Wrong as usual.”

I get my butt in my seat. I slam the door and hear a faint woof of pain. I’m out of here, doors locked. This is my personal specialty: slipping out of a too-tight grip and getting the hell out. My former friend just a cheating cardboard cutout in my rearview mirror. “Wrong as usual, because there are no good ones.”

When I hear my voice say it out loud, I know it isn’t true. There’s still one solid-gold good man left out there. He’s the high-tide mark in a world of inch-deep puddles. Quick, I’m having a winemergency. Drink tonight and go to sleep and forget.

I drive a meandering route to the convenience store near my house, checking my rearview mirror. I put my heart back in its box and I endure a ten-minute argument with my base female self. Was I too friendly with Keith? Too casual, too naughty and rude and loose with my smiles? No, fuck him.

I rework different conversations that I’ve had with him, cringing at how easy and enjoyably platonic I found them. Maybe I even used him as a substitute for my brother. Did I pay Keith twenty bucks to be my friend?

Oh God, I’m pathetic.

I wonder how many Keiths are in wedding portraits I’ve done over the years. I prod my stinging wrist. It’s a good reminder that no matter how careful I am, it’ll never be enough. I am going to need a lot of wine tonight.

I pull my car up at the curb. This used to be a piece of parkland, stitched into the seams between my childhood home and Loretta’s cottage. Progress was unavoidable, but a neon-bright 7-Eleven store just feels insulting. I still can’t drive past my old house. It’s been painted mauve. Still, I could probably stand to look at that purple palace before I could make myself turn and look at the run-down white house across the street.

Feelings again. Wine. Wine.

“Not again,” the cashier, Marco, says when I walk in. “Not. Again.”

“I’m too tired for your shit so don’t even start.” This place is as convenient as the neon sign out front says. Otherwise, I wouldn’t endure this. Marco read a book about sugar and it changed his life.

“Sugar is white poison.” He starts telling me a fake-sounding story about sugar-addicted lab rats. I choose a cheap bottle of sweet white wine and a can of fish guts for Diana, and then go into my favorite aisle in the entire world.

“They chose the sugar over food and eventually died of malnutrition.” Marco sells a pack of cigarettes to someone without comment.

   
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