An old lady died at work the other day. Rick was ringing her up her groceries and she was getting her wallet out to pay, and then she stumbled backward into one of the loose candy racks and fell on the floor. There was candy all over the place. When Rick went to help her up she was already gone, not breathing, not moving, nothing. The EMTs said it was probably a stroke, or a heart attack, and they rolled her out on a stretcher with a green sheet over it. For a minute everything was really quiet — the music was still playing and I guess people were probably still pushing carts, but everyone else had just shut up. It felt like when it snows, you know, and sound won’t carry at all. Then Rick started to clean up the candy and I heard the carts start rolling again.
At the other registers, the girls were bagging groceries and making sad sounds while they answered people who asked what happened. “I don’t know,” I heard Jessica say. “I guess this old lady just died.” She snapped her gum and tapped her fingers. Feliks — our boss — he was walking around mumbling in Polish, and then he yelled something in English about a lawsuit. “Feliks, forget about it,” Rick said. Rick was on the floor, trying to reach a pack of Lifesavers that had rolled under the cereal display. “There’s not going to be a fucking lawsuit.”
When we got home, I sat on the couch. I lit a cigarette, kicked my shoes off, and took a deep breath while the blood came back into my feet. Rick hadn’t sat down. He was pacing, and he had a funny look about him. Then he went to the fridge and opened it, and he stood looking inside it. I tapped my cigarette on the ashtray.
I said, “Shit, man. I can’t believe that lady just died.”
Rick nodded, but he didn’t say anything. He was still looking in the fridge. Then he said, “We need to get some beer.”
“Yeah?” I said.
“Where do you want to go?”
I smoked. “You want to drive there?”
“Okay,” I said, nodding. I put my shoes back on.
The only thing was Rick hadn’t been drinking since we moved in. And he’d had a couple of cigarettes, but he wasn’t usually smoking. He said he’d been overdoing it and wanted to take a break. He’d been away on this language thing in India — his parents have some money so they sent him on this thing — and he’d just gotten back. Our plan was always that we’d live here and work for a year or two, then go to community college and get our lives started. He was a year ahead of me, so he took this trip while I finished high school — part of his whole thing of having real experiences before college. But I guess he spent the whole time getting drunk. “Taking a break sounds good,” I said when he told me. I wanted to help him out, and I hadn’t been drinking that much either. But now we were on our way to get beer and I didn’t know what to do except be polite.
We went inside. Rick bought a 24-pack of Budweiser and a bag of potato chips. I bought Camels and an orange lighter. We stood outside the store while I threw away the plastic and the foil from the cigarette pack and yanked the safety thing out of the lighter. Then I lit one. It was already pretty dark out, and people were pulling up in cars with the windows down and the music blasting, being really loud. There isn’t much to do out here on a Friday night except drink and be loud. Some of the people we saw we’d known in high school, but there were also all the tourists we didn’t know, who were still out here for the last of the good weather. Rick said, “Give me one of those.”
“What?” I said. He wasn’t looking at me.
He pointed at my cigarettes and then gestured across the parking lot with his head. Skye and Jessie were walking towards us. I started laughing. “Fuck you, man,” he said. “Just give me one.” I kept laughing and offered him the pack. He took one, and I lit it for him.
In high school, there’d been these two girls, these younger girls that we liked, Skye and Jessie. They were cute, and they were teases. Rick and I would go to the beach to drink beer and smoke cigarettes, and sometimes they’d come and sit with us. They’d bum cigarettes from us, and we’d try hard to charm them. But they never stuck around for very long. We probably spent more time watching them walk away from us than we did talking to them. That’s what I remember most, me and Rick staring like dogs at them as they walked along the water with their little frayed shorts and their hair blowing like a shampoo commercial. They were something else.
So they were walking towards me and Rick, and we were smoking the cigarettes and acting like we didn’t really notice. Then our eyes met and we all waved.
“What’s going on?” Rick said. “I haven’t seen you guys in forever.”
“Nothing,” Skye said. She’s blonde and blue-eyed, cookie-cutter cute. Rick’s favorite. “We’re just getting some cigarettes.”
“Aren’t you too young to buy those?” Rick said.
“We’re 18,” Jessie said, laughing. She’s a brunette, shorter, a little funnier. “Where have you been?”
“I’ve been in India,” Rick said. Jessie walked right into that one. Now Rick got to do his thing.
“What?” Skye said. “No way.”
“Yeah, I was in India for a year. It was fucking amazing.”
“What were you doing there?”
“Learning Hindi. Drinking.” He laughed.
Skye said, “That’s awesome!”
“Say something in Hindi,” Jessie said.
I’m not even going to try and say what Rick said. But Skye giggled at it and said “What does it mean?”
“It means, ‘You have beautiful hair.’”
The girls laughed. I turned to Rick and said, “How come you never say that to me?”
Rick said, “I’m sorry, hon,” and put his arm around my shoulder. The girls cracked up, then we did.
Rick took his arm off my shoulder. “What are you girls up to tonight?” he said.
“Nothing,” Skye said. “We were supposed to go to this party in Calverton but we don’t have a ride.”
“Oh, that sucks,” Rick said. He smoked. “Um, why don’t you hang out with us? We’re about to go back to our place and drink these.”
“You guys live together now?” Skye said.
“We just moved in,” I said. “It’s nice. It’s like, part of a house. We have a balcony.”
“Cool,” Skye said. Then she looked at Jessie. “I don’t really like beer, though.”
“What do you drink at parties?”
Rick grinned. “Okay,” he said. “We’ve got orange juice at our place. Let’s go get a bottle of vodka and we’ll all have some drinks on the balcony.”
The girls looked at each other. “You’re not 21,” Jessie said to Rick.
“I’ve got a fake that scans.”
I couldn’t tell if the girls wanted to come with us. Like I said, they never used to stick around. And Rick had this look to him that was kind of freaking me out. But they said yeah, they’d come over for a little while. They went inside to get cigarettes, and Rick went in with them to get a pack for himself. Then they came out and we all got in the car. Rick started the engine, turned the radio on, lit a cigarette, and slammed into reverse. His taking a break was over. I mean, these girls probably could have made him do anything.
Rick had talked me into shooting a beer and the girls into shooting vodka. They put their glasses down, twisted their faces up, and reached for the orange juice. Rick crushed his can and said “…may she rest in peace” and laughed. The girls looked sick. I just sat there burping. Rick handed me another beer and said “It’s been a while, huh?” and laughed again. “Yeah,” I said, taking it and burping one more time. Then Rick started telling stories.
“So guess what happened at work today?”
“Oh yeah,” I said, “oh my god. Tell them.”
“What?” Skye said.
“I was ringing up this old woman — um — and she —” Rick took a long sip. “Sorry, I need more beer for this.” Everybody laughed.
“So this woman is buying like, bread. And milk. Just basic shit. And she tries to pay me — I mean, she goes to open her bag. And she just falls over and dies.”
I was about to say, “She knocked over all this candy,” but then the girls both gasped and Skye said, “Oh my god. At the IGA?”
“Yeah,” Rick said.
“Who was she?” Jessie said.
“Something with a W,” I said. “The EMT guys told us, but it was all really weird. I didn’t recognize the name, so I don’t know if she’s like, somebody’s grandma.”
“Oh my god,” Skye said.
“It was crazy,” Rick said. “I had no idea what to do. I went over there to help her up but she wasn’t breathing or anything. She didn’t have a pulse. One guy said he knew CPR and came over, but she was just — I mean, she was totally dead. The boss called 911 and we just had to close the register and wait there.”
“The EMT guys said it was probably a heart attack,” I said. “Or a stroke.”
Rick finished his beer. “I need another beer,” he said. “Let’s all have another. How’re those screwdrivers?”
“All right,” Rick said, and opened a beer.
Rick told more stories. He told a funny one about going to the Taj Mahal and how there are all these people there who try to take your picture and sell it to you, and how his friend got hustled out of a ton of money because he was drunk, and how now he has all these shitty pictures of him at the Taj Mahal. He talked a lot about India, stuff he hadn’t even told me yet. He might have been making some of it up for the girls. I don’t know.
The girls didn’t say much. I realized that they were kind of shy. I’d always thought that they were so cute, you know, they must have been the really social type. But it seemed like they kept mostly to themselves. Every once in a while, Skye would look at something on her phone, and sometimes she’d show it to Jessie and they’d laugh. But mostly they just sat and ate the chips and drank really slowly. Rick and Skye did their thing, and I tried to flirt with Jessie a little bit. She didn’t really flirt back. But a few times our eyes met for a little too long while Rick was going on about something, and I was thinking maybe she was into me. Maybe I was just drunk. We’d killed most of the beer in like, an hour and a half.
At some point Rick went inside to take a leak. I had to go too, and I walked in with him.
Rick laughed for a bit as he started to piss. “We’ve got these girls,” he said over his shoulder.
“No way,” I said. “No way. Rick, I’m so drunk.”
“What?” Rick was washing his hands.
“I’m so drunk. I’m not hooking up with anybody tonight.”
“What?” He finished washing his hands. “Come on. You should hook up with Jessie.”
“I’m not hooking up with Jessie.”
“You should! Hook up with her!”
“She doesn’t want to. I’ve gotta piss.”
I had to hold the wall with one hand, and I was swaying a little, but I managed. I hadn’t been drunk in a long time. I was tired, but I wanted to stay up. I was wishing I could get with Jessie, and thinking that maybe I could. I washed my face and squeezed a little toothpaste on my tongue. Then I walked back onto the balcony.
Rick was saying something, but I interrupted him.
“Do you two remember when we used to hang out at Fifth Street beach?”
“Yeah!” Skye said. “You guys were always down there drinking.”
“Not always,” Rick said.
“We were down there a lot,” I said.
“You guys were down there when it was snowing,” said Jessie. “Like, one time we drove down there and you guys were sitting outside with beers in the snow.”
Rick was laughing. “It keeps it cold!”
“That was his idea,” I said. “I hate drinking beer when it’s cold out.”
“You guys were crazy,” Skye said.
Rick made a face at her. Like, a crazy person face. “Crazy!” he said. Skye and Jessie laughed. He picked up the empty bag of chips — we’d killed those too — and put it on his head. “We’re crazy!” He grabbed the vodka and got up on the railing, one hand on the side of the house and the bottle still in the other.
“Rick,” I said, “be careful. Don’t do that.” The girls were in hysterics. “Come on, Rick,” I said. “Come on.” I was really scared. This was it, I mean, he was finally going to kill himself. I just knew it. “You’re going to kill yourself,” I said. Skye looked over at me and said “Chill out!” I gave her a sort of a dirty look and drank some beer — I think I turned a little red. Rick was putting on a show for the girls, dancing up there and drinking out of the bottle. They thought it was great. I just closed my eyes and waited for him to fall.
But he didn’t. He got back down at some point and took a bow. The girls clapped and kept laughing. He patted me on the back and offered me the bottle. I shook my head. Then he offered it to the girls. They shook their heads too.
“You’re not drinking at all!” Rick said to them.
“I’ve had enough,” Jessie said. “I’m drunk.”
“Me too,” Skye said.
“You’re not drunk,” Rick said. “You are not drunk.”
“They say they’re drunk, Rick,” I said. “They’re probably drunk.” Jessie laughed.
“Have one more,” Rick said. He offered them the bottle again.
“I’m okay,” Jessie said.
Rick looked at Skye, and she shook her head. Then he looked at me. “I guess we’re gonna have to finish this ourselves,” he said.
There was a lot of vodka left. We should have just saved it. But I didn’t like that I’d just looked soft in front of the girls. I said, “Shot for shot?” and Rick said, “Yeah!” and stood up smiling.
Rick took a long one, then I did. We each had five and mine was the last.
“Last one breaks the bottle,” Rick said.
“That’s —” I burped. “That’s not a real rule,” I said. The girls laughed. I felt sick.
“Gotta break the bottle,” Rick said. He still had the bag on his head.
I remember thinking I wasn’t going to do it, and then just doing it. I threw it into the parking lot across the way, and I heard it shatter.
“Yeah!” Rick said, and patted me on the back. He sat down and opened another beer.
I was still standing up. I had been feeling drunk, but now I felt different. My body was tingling and my heart was beating really fast. I smiled, but like, slowly. Rick and the girls were looking at me.
“I think we should go do something,” I said. I might have whispered it.
I don’t really know what happened after that. Neither does Rick. I think we drove somewhere, but I know I didn’t drive. And I would have remembered Jessie, so I guess that didn’t happen either.
All I know is I woke up in my clothes and my cigarettes were gone. I threw up in the bathroom for a while, and then I brushed my teeth.
Rick was on the balcony smoking. It was bright, and I shaded my eyes.
“Good morning,” I said.
Rick just sort of shook his head and laughed.
“What happened to the girls?” I said.
Rick shrugged and said, “I don’t know.”
I sat down next to him and reached for the cigarette pack, but it was empty. He had the last one. I looked out at the parking lot and I could see where the bottle broke; the pieces were shining in the sun like glitter. I’d thrown it pretty far.
I looked over at Rick. “Can I get a drag of that?” I said.
Rick nodded, but he didn’t pass it to me. I don’t think he heard me. We just sat there.