"Really the only luck we recognize is bad luck." __Some guy in a bar.
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“Bah, bah, bah, buh, buh, buh, bah-baaah, I wanna’ be sedated…”
The Ramones blasted from the car’s cassette player, the volume maxed out (the only way to listen to the band). Wind blew through my hair, the promise of spring in the air. I could practically smell rejuvenation, particularly after surviving another knee-knockingly freezing Kansas winter. More importantly, today felt like Independence Day. Mom had donated her monster of a car to me. A real gas guzzler, but who cared? I no longer had to depend on others for a ride. Freedom tasted great.
“Bah, buh, buh, buh—”
OMG, Scrunch? Not a good sound, definitely not one of the few chords the Ramones abused.
I slowed the Nova, pulling it to the curb.
Crap. Behind me a side mirror lay in the road, a casualty of my first day in the driving trenches. Next to it sat a parked Camry, minus one side mirror. Independence Day had already ended with a bang. Not a celebratory one, either.
Of course my Nova withstood the blow like a tank assaulted by a pistol. But explaining the accident to my mom was going to suck in every imaginable way since her picture’s practically in the dictionary under “uptight.” Right next to my boyfriend, Tex McKenna, that is. For a teen, Tex can kinda’ be a drag at times. He means well, but he’s the world’s biggest worry-wart. He’s also a witch. A “worry-warty witch.” But that’s a tale for another time.
Because now it was time to open up a can of damage control.
With mirror in hand, I headed toward the nearest house. Sacking up, I rang the doorbell.
A middle-aged guy yanked the door open. Right off the bat, he appeared harried, the look all adults seem to prefer. Mr. Hard Sell. “Yeah?”
“Um, hi. Is that your Camry out front?”
“Uh-huh.” He swung the door open, peering over my shoulder.
“Sorry. I think I hit it. Here…” I handed over the mirror, a war trophy.
“You ‘think’ you hit it or you hit it?”
Well, duh. But for once I kept cool. Clearly “Mr. Bitter McBitteryness” wanted to teach me a lesson, not wanting to go easy. “I hit it. Sorry.”
“Were you texting? Dammit, all you—”
“What? No. I don’t text and drive!”
I guess he believed me as he released his constipated demeanor. With an exaggerated sigh, he said, “Well, come on in.”
After a couple years of tackling killers with Tex (don’t ask), I hesitated. “Stranger danger.” Then again, I can take care of myself. I stuck my keys between my fingers, sharp edges up. Ready to kick ass if necessary. Feeling empowered, I entered the house.
Inside, half-open boxes littered the floor, their contents spilling out like gutted bodies. The house smelled musty, the air oppressive. Doilies and other freaky knitted things covered the ancient furniture, bookshelves, damn near everything. Welcome to the land of old people.
A streak of fluid lightning caught my eye. Then a huge dandelion of a cat encircled my legs, humming like a sewing machine.
“Hey, kitty,” I said, reaching down to pet it. “Your cat?”
“Nah, I’m a neighbor.” When he fell back onto a paisley eyesore of a sofa, dust whiffed up, motes trapped in a streak of sunlight. “The lady who lived here died a couple days ago. Didn’t have any family. Fell on me to clean out her house.” His hands flew up while his mouth drew down. “Just my luck.”
I settled in for the long-drawn out drama I knew awaited me. No “wam-bam, here’s my insurance info, ma’am.”
“How’d she die?” I sat in a chair, the plastic cover snapping beneath me like milk crackling over cereal.
“I dunno. Heart failure, I guess. But that’s what they always say when no one wants to mess with an autopsy.”
We held a mini-wake of silence for the late “Miss Doilie.” Finally I chuffed out a cough to wake the guy up from his self-induced coma. “I’m Olivia. Olivia Furman.”
“I’m Dave.” He said it like he couldn’t believe what a kick-ass name he’d been blessed with. With lifted eyebrows, he waited for my awed response. Gonna’ be a long wait.
“Ah, hey, Dave.”
“So…how old are you, anyway? Sixteen? Go to school?”
“Yeah, Clearwell High.” I grimaced, mainly because I hated thinking about that hellhole in my free time.
Dave laughed. “Unlucky you. I went there, too. So is that ass-hat, Hastings, still busting everyone’s chops?”
“Oh, yeah. One of my fave peeps, my boy Arville. Kicking ass and taking names. Unless you’re a football player.”
“Guess some things never change.”
We found common ground, a mutual enemy in Clearwell High’s heinous vice-principal. Time to pull out the Olivia charm and make a fast get-away. “Anyway, you want my insurance info? Kinda’ sucks. My first day of driving and everything.”
He ignored my comments, glaring at my jacket through narrowed eyes. His hot-doggy finger jabbed my way in a lawyerly fashion. “The Ramones.”
“Hm? Oh, my buttons.” I shook my jacket, jangling my bling. “Yeah, I’m into old school punk. Nothing on the radio here unless you’re into country or top 40.”
“I hear ya’. I liked The Ramones, too. You’re kinda’ young to even know about them.”
“That’s me. Young on the outside, an old soul on the inside.”
“You want somethin’ to drink? A beer?”
“Oh, crap, sorry. A soda?”
“No, I’m good.” A clock on the mantle ticked away as we stared at one another. World’s most apathetic showdown. Clearly the guy wanted company and I pulled the short straw. And he thinks he’s the one with bad luck.
“I like your car, by the way.”
“What? That ol’ hunka’ junk? My mom gave me her Nova when she bought a new economy ride. Gah. So embarrassing.”
“Really?” He brightened, no doubt visions of racing stripes zipping through his head. “Man, I’d love to have a car like that.”
“Huh. I think my mom gave it to me to punish me.”
Again he lapsed into silence. Unmoving, contemplative, spent for whatever reason. I wondered if he had also died in this house of horrors.
Blink, move, say something, do anything, dammit!
The cat came to my rescue, twisting around my legs. A welcome distraction. “Hey, cat. What’s the cat’s name?”
Dave snorted, a very phlegmy sound. “Sparkles. I need to sell the cat on Craig’s List, but…I think it’s kinda’ a gay name.”
Oh, no, he didn’t just go there. Keep cool, Olivia. You’re at his mercy. Don’t say anything you’ll regret. Just keep your mouth shut. Just…
“Hold up, hold up, hold up! You can’t use ‘gay’ like that! It’s insulting…,” my finger flicked out like a switchblade, “…derogatory, uncool as hell, discrimi—”
“Wait, sorry, sorry, sorry.” He waved twin white hand flags. “Didn’t mean anything by it. Are you gay?”
“What? No, I’m not gay. And even if I was, you still—”
“Guess you’re one of those politically correct types, then.”
I don’t know what pissed me off more--his insulting use of the word gay or his condescending grin, a challenge. Either way, I unleashed Hurricane Olivia to wreak retribution. Not happening on my watch. “Sounds like you think being politically aware is a bad thing! You know if more people in this crappy city had an inch of sensitivity, then maybe—”
“Hey, I said I was sorry. It’s just…old habits die hard. You know…it’s the way we talked in high school.”
“Sucks to be you.”
“Yeah, maybe.” He rubbed his cheek, apparently pondering his suckyness. “Anyway, whatever. I still hate the name, Sparkles. Wanna’ help me rename the cat?”
Slowly, I counted to ten, lost count around three. Chilling, I let out a long, cleansing sigh. Adults can’t help their stupidity. They know not what they do. It’s bred into them. “Sure, fine,” I said.
“Well? What do ya’ think we should call the cat?” Dave tossed the mirror up like a baseball, catching it with casual grace.
It seemed so simple, really. Fate sealed the cat’s name, no doubt about it. “How about ‘Crash?’”
Dave glanced at the furball and, damn skippy if he didn’t grin like a Cheshire cat. “‘Crash.’ Heh. I like it. ‘Crash’ it is.”
Just might get outta’ this after all.
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Okay, this story actually happened to my daughter. More or
less. And she's one of the inspirations for Olivia Furman, my kick butt and take names later heroine of the Tex, the Witch Boy series.
For more of tales of Olivia, heroine supreme (who pretty much carries the action and threatens to steal the books away from my teen witch protagonist, Tex), check out the Tex, the Witch Boy trilogy: Amazon page.
And please do check out Stuart's blog featuring weekly rants, failed stand-up comedy routines and incisive author interviews: Twisted Tales From Tornado Alley