Price Breaks and Heartaches
A journal of retail and failed romance
Paper Hearts And A Red Haired Tart
Tallulah was actually a pretty good sport about the whole inappropriate kiss thing and the date actually ended with her thanking me for a nice night out. Of course once I had dropped her off at her place I spent the next ten or fifteen minutes cursing myself for being so mind numbingly stupid. When I got home I vowed to just relax by reading some comic books, 'The All Star Squadron' was a balm that soothed a lot of my ills.
Imagine my surprise to find my sister Greta at the table where she, my mom and my stepfather were all involved in a tense conversation. I didn't care, I had to tell her how glad I was to see her. It would have been normal to hug her but I tend to get funny about displays of affection when it comes to family and friends. Pretty weird considering I had destroyed a six dollar tub of popcorn trying to kiss a girl that had been making snide comments about me a few weeks before.
My parents bristled when I asked Greta if she was home for good. I retreated from the room promising I would catch up with her as soon as I could.
The next night was Corey's birthday, we were taking him out to his favorite restaurant to try and bring him out of his funk. Aside from yours truly Kevin, Alice, Sarah, Marvin and Marvin's brother Ida were going to be in attendance. We were at one of those Japanese steakhouses where they cooked right at the table.
“Great Kevin!” Marvin's voice was a hiss, “Just great!”
Kevin shrugged helplessly, “I didn't mean to sit on the cake. Who puts a cake in the passenger side seat anyway?”
“You could have watched where the Hell you were going.”
I laughed at that, “You've obviously never been for a drive with him.”
It was just the three of us for now and coincidentally Marvin was already on his third beer, Kevin was still dabbing at the frosting that had worked its way into the fabric of his corduroy pants.
We sat at a table that was a half circle, the center of which was taken up by a flat metal hibachi cooking table. There were eight chairs around it, that struck me as one extra until Marvin explained that his new girlfriend would be joining us and then they were going dancing.
I was momentarily taken aback by that statement; the only way I had ever figured he would get a girl to dance with him is if he held a gun to her pancreas. I wasn't sure if I wanted to congratulate him or throw Saki in his eyes in a fit of childish jealousy. Since the Saki wasn't here yet so I just clapped him on the back and told him “Good going.” Then I realized, “Where is the birthday boy anyway?”
“He should be here in a little while,” Kevin said. “I sent the girls out to get another cake.”
“Cool. What's a birthday without cake?”
Marvin frowned, “I still think we should have taken him to a strip club.”
I shook my head, “No thanks. That's not my kind of thing.”
“And you're not 21 either.”
“There is that too.”
A tall man with wild red hair walked into the restaurant and gave us a wave. “Who's that?” I asked.
“My brother Ida,” Marvin said, “He's a sarcastic asshole like you.”
“I like him already.”
“Everyone this is my little brother, Ida this is everyone.”
He took a seat, “Nice to meet you both. Where's the cake Mom made?”
“Somebody sat on it.”
Kevin grumbled, “Can we please let that go?”
Sarah and Alice showed up next, they were wearing raggedy jeans and tie-die shirts and they were carrying a store bought cake. “There wasn't much left at the store so we got him this.”
The three men at the table stared long and hard at the cake but Ida was the first to speak, “You got a twenty one year old man a VOLTRON cake?”
“You said he likes cars,” Sarah said. “Voltron's a car isn't it?”
I rolled my eyes, “Space Voltron has some cars making up its body but you got a cake of Lion Voltron. It is a completely different thing!”
Then I realized everyone was looking at me, “Not that I would know anything about that...”
“Still digesting our inner child are we?” Ida said.
“Wow. Not bad,” I smiled. “But you might want to leave humor to the professionals.”
“Sure, soon as I see one.”
The waitress came by to check on us; Marvin asked for another beer, the rest of us got sodas or water depending upon our designated driver status and our feelings about the legally sanctioned corporate defilement of Mother Earth.
The waitress repeated the order back to us, “So that is one beer, two sodas and two waters for the girls?”
Alice nodded, “We also need our waters served to us in glasses that were not cleaned with chemical detergents.”
“How about some appetizers?”
Kevin nodded, “We’re going to wait for the rest of the party to get here first.”
“I hope it’s soon,” I said as the waitress left. “I’m starving.”
Ida said, “Yeah God forbid you miss a meal, you’re just wasting away.”
“Even Ray Charles would have seen that one coming dude.”
Every time the door opened we would look up to see if it was Corey but it wasn’t. The usual questions started, Did he forget? Are we here on the right day? Are we sure we told him which restaurant?
Marvin got so tried of saying “Yes.” That he ordered two more beers and made threats under his breath.
Finally the front door opened and a familiar face strode in but it was absolutely not the face I wanted to see. “Oh Christ,” I said. “Not this pain in the ass again. Of all the sad sorry women in the world why does this bitch have to keep showing up in my life?”
Marvin turned in his seat, “Hey buttknuckle, that’s my girlfriend.”
Joanna gave Marvin a hug and everyone else got a wave, “Hey sugar. And how are you doing Ida? And Al! Long time no see.”
I couldn’t help but point, “She’s your girlfriend?”
“Small world isn’t it?” she sat down next to Marvin and took a sip off one of his beers.
“Her?” I said.
Marvin continued to make introductions, “Oh and Johanna this is my buddy Kevin over here.”
“Hi ho!” he offered her a cheery wave that toppled over his just delivered soda. “Aw nuts!”
“And that girl over there is Kevin’s girl Alice and Sarah, she’s like her hippie-in-waiting for something.”
All three girls made their hellos while I tried to get Marvin’s attention, “Hey. Marv.”
Marvin made an exasperated sound, “Is there something wrong?”
“I mean… she’s… why? Why?”
“Maybe because I like her.” Marvin said.
Ida nodded, “And maybe because she said yes?”
The sound of Marvin’s knuckles cracking was like the echo of a nearby firing squad, “The pair of you are going to get a bad case of hibachi face if you don’t watch it.”
“Oh and I almost forgot!” Joanna got back up and caught me in an embrace before I could scramble away, “How have you been? Are you still selling pictures by the roadside?”
“He was what?” Ida almost choked on his soda.
“Yup, I saw him up in Herkimer once with some gorgeous blonde. They were selling framed pictures of Elvis and Jesus.”
“Ah, Americana at its finest.”
I nodded, “It was just a summer thing. I liked working there but I had to move on. I do have to admit that my last day there was pretty painful.”
“At least you got to travel a little.” Joanna returned to her seat, I watched Marvin’s hand touch her hip as she passed and I had to grit my teeth.
Sarah asked, “Should one of us should call Corey and see what’s up?”
Marvin shrugged, “Give him a few more minutes. Has everyone decided what we’re going to have?”
“The sirloin sounds good.” I said.
“It is very good.”
“I usually get the chicken.” Ida told me, “It’s really great, better than the steak I think.”
Kevin said, “I’m going to have the fish. It’s brain food you know.”
Straight lines like that are a weakness of mine so I said, “Let me know how that works out for you.”
Alice frowned, “Sarah and I won’t be eating, we don’t eat meat.”
Marvin chuckled at that.
“You know,” Ida suggested. “They do some really nice vegetarian dishes here.”
“No,” Sarah explained, “We would still be giving money to an establishment that is an instrument in the ongoing animal holocaust.”
Kevin said, “I’m having fish.”
I started to speak but Ida raised his hand, “I’ve got this one. Kevin, you do know that fishes are not vegetables right?”
“Yeah but they’re not meat.”
Alice’s voice became prickly, “I said we don’t eat meat.”
“Heh-heh,” Marvin said. “If a girl's going out with me she better learn to eat meat. Heh-heh.”
“You pig!” Joanna was half-laughing, half-embarrassed. “Don’t talk that way.”
“You guys know what I’m talking about right? Hah? Eating meat hah?”
“I think everyone at the table got it Marv.” Ida said.
“Meat! Heh! They’d be eating meat all right. They’d be eating tube steaks!”
I whispered in Ida’s ear, “Is he stuck or something?”
Joanna put her hand over Marvin’s mouth, “Come on honey, I think you’re upsetting them.”
Alice frowned, “And for your information neither Sarah or I do that sort of thing.”
“Really?” Kevin looked like a kid that just learned there was no Santa Claus.
“Of course not, men only want that done so they can assert their phallo-sexual dominance.”
“Phallo-sexual? Is that even a word?” Joanna asked.
I said, “God I hope not.”
Kevin was still looking as confused as ever, “I don’t understand…”
Alice spoke tenderly to him, “You see when a girl does… that she could choke. It’s an act of aggression.”
“What you did to me was an act of contrition.”
Ida shook his head, “This is one of the most insane things I have ever heard.”
“Yeah,” I said. “And besides I’ve seen Kevin’s wang- you’re not going to be choking on… on… No. That’s not how it sounds. What I mean is I’ve seen his… no… I… Oh what did I just say?”
“Not quite a mouthful apparently.”
“And on that note,” Marvin got up. “I’ll give Corey a call and see what’s keeping him. I hope he’s not having car trouble.”
Everyone that knew Corey had a small laugh at that. Corey’s El Dorado purred like a kitten and ran like a race car; it had custom bodywork and an audio system that could bring a tear to your eye or make your ears bleed depending on how the treble controls were set. Yes sir, that guy could fix a car with one dipstick tied behind his back.
…you fix cars with dipsticks right? The dipstick is the PRNDL thing isn’t it?
Pondering dipsticks absolutely did not make me think about the disturbing number of times I had glimpsed Kevin. K. Hanson’s talliwhacker. No what I thought about was how I had acted like a dipstick with Tallulah at the movies the previous night. I was sure that the next time I saw her at work the chumminess that had been growing between us would be gone.
With my luck she would either have burly relatives or a restraining order waiting for me when I got there.
I looked across the table wondering once again what I was doing there. I am so much cooler than these people, so much more normal.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have other places to spend my time, after all Adrian and Gordon were always around. Of course they had their flaws as well; Adrian could be so egotistical that if you proved him wrong about something he could become physically ill. Gordon was made of sterner stuff but he had a penchant for acts of mischief you normally didn’t see outside of a Junior High or a Frat House.
Marvin came back to the table red faced and a little confused looking, “He won’t come.”
“What do you mean?” The statement so startled Kevin that he spilled his drink again, I’m sure I heard the maître d' sobbing somewhere nearby.
Joanna asked, “What’s wrong?”
“He won’t leave the house. He says he’s got too many problems.” Marvin took another pull on his beer, “It’s like his Mom all over again.”
“His mom’s dead,” I said. “I’m not getting what you mean here.”
Now it was Alice’s turn to ask a question, “His mom’s dead?”
Kevin looked up from dabbing at his soda soaked pants, “She died in a gas leak like ten years or a decade ago.”
“Ten years is a –” Ida started to say but I silenced him. It just wasn’t worth it.
“It wasn’t a gas leak,” Marvin signaled for the waitress to come over and asked her for a check. “She killed herself.”
I had to laugh a little, “He never said anything about that.”
“Would you want your family’s dirty laundry aired out in public?” Marvin said, “She was cracked in the head, she got a little crazier every year.”
“Oh that’s awful.” Joanna said.
“That’s why he spent so much time in the garage with his old man.” Marvin paid off our drinks and apologized to the waitress and staff. He tipped pretty handsomely too.
I thought of seeing Corey sitting in that chair staring at nothing and asked, “Should we go and see him?”
“No,” Marvin helped Joanna into her coat, “It would just make things worse. His old man’s gotta try and get him back on his pills.”
“He was on medication? For how long?”
“A couple of years. He’s not exactly consistent about it. That’s the problem I guess.”
“I’ve known him longer than anyone else here,” I said. “How is it I’ve never heard any of this.”
Joanna frowned gently, “You can be a little oblivious sometimes.”
“Let’s go shoot some pool,” Ida suggested.
Kevin held the door open so we could all file out, “Sounds good to me.”
“I think I’m just going to go home guys,” I said.
No one wanted to take the Voltron cake with then so we left it behind.