“Where were you after school?” I yelled, causing Weed to hit his head on the hood of the Weed Wagon.
He was rubbing his head as he came around the mail truck with a less-than-happy look on his face.
“I was smoothing things over with Stephanie and Tiffany, so you’re welcome.”
“I thought Stephanie was fine with my excuse about having to pick up my mom.”
“She was, until she saw Shawna in the car with you this morning.”
“Yean, so again, you’re welcome.”
“This morning is kind of what I needed to talk to you about,” I said, seizing the opportunity to change the subject.
“If you say you’re going to try things with her again…”
“No, no, it’s nothing like that.”
“Good,” he said, pulling out a cigarette.
I followed his lead and lit one up myself.
“So are we just going to sit here sucking on these things or are you going to tell me what’s so important that you came in here yelling at me for helping you out?”
It took me a second to find the right words.
“Lucifer gave me my last assignment right before Shawna got in the car.”
“No, no it’s not.”
“Sure it is,” he replied. “Get this last one overwith and we can get back to life as it should be.
I just continued to stare at him.
“So, are you going to tell me who it is?”
As I opened my mouth, I suddenly didn’t know what to say. I’d never kept anything from Weed. He knew everything I’d done and we were still friends, but Shawna was a friend too, and it almost felt like betraying her to even say her name to him.
“Come on man,” he continued, “you know you’re going to end up telling me eventually; whether it’s before or after you finish your assignment.”
He was right, I did know it, but that didn’t make the words any easier to say. He lit up another cigarette, and so did I. Then I took one long drag before deciding to just tell him the truth.
“I got to school a little early today.”
“I kind of figured that out, seeing how Shawna was already in your car by the time I got there.”
“Are you going to let me tell you about this or not?”
“Sure, sure, go on.”
“So I got there a little early and was jamming out to some old school Metallica when Lucifer decided to interrupt the music.”
“The black album?”
“What? No. I said old school Metallica. I was listening to Kill ‘Em All.”
“A little ironic, but still a good choice. Did you know it was originally supposed to be titled ‘Metal Up Your Ass’.”
“Yeah, though I like the name Kill ‘Em All better. But that really has nothing to do with my story.”
“So anyway, Lucifer teased me a little about permanently becoming a reaper, which I declined.
“A wise choice.”
“Then he says “and here’s your last assignment”, just as Shawna walks up.”
Weed just sat there, with a shocked look on his face, then slowly started to grin.
“You almost had me,” he said.
“You almost got me. For a minute there I actually believed you.”
“Did you hear what I said?”
“Yeah, and it almost worked, too. But there is no way Shawna’s murdered, raped or molested anyone.”
“I’m telling you, she’s my next assignment.”
“Sure she is. So what’s she done?”
“I don’t know.”
“So you were alone in a car with her, before and after school, and you didn’t even touch her to find out what she’s done to deserve to be your next assignment?”
“I’m not sure I want to know.”
“Dude, you’re going to have to come up with a better story next time you want to prank me.”
“But nothing,” he said, “I’m not falling for it.”
It took me the rest of the night, as we worked on the weed wagon, to convince him that Shawna really was my last assignment.
“So what are you going to do?” He asked, finally accepting that I wasn’t trying to pull one over on him.
We were trying to relax in his room listening to a little Pink Floyd, but my mind refused to become comfortably numb.
“I don’t know,” I replied, taking a hit off his silver bowl. “There’s no way I can kill her, but if I don’t, then my time is up and Lucifer will just send another Reaper.”
“Either way,” Weed said, “I end up at least one friend short.”
I just froze. I’d been so caught up in my own dilemma that I hadn’t thought about it from his perspective. Suddenly I felt awful.
“I’m sorry, man, I really shouldn’t have drug you into any of this.”
“Are you kidding? I’d be pissed if you hadn’t.”
“But this is some heavy shit, and I just don’t know what to do.”
“You’ve got five days, right?”
“So we’ve got a little time to think and we’ll come up with something.”
“I’m not so sure.”
“Have I ever given you a reason to doubt me?”
“Do you really want me to answer that?”
“No, probably not. Just take another hit.”
I did. Then he did, both of us smoking a little more than we probably should have, but we slept like babies.
The next day Shawna seemed to be avoiding me, which normally would have bothered me, but right then it was probably the best thing that could have happened. I had no idea what to do, and I really doubt I could have faced her without losing it and telling her everything.
Wednesday and Thursday were pretty much the same. I went to school, but I couldn’t tell you a single thing even one of my teachers had said. Every minute of every day my thoughts were preoccupied with my deal with Lucifer and what I was going to do about Shawna. Weed tried to help take my mind off it by coming up with all sorts of small random projects for me to do around the garage while he worked on the Weed Wagon, but I probably messed things up more than I helped. I decided to change things up on Friday by taking the KZ to school. I figured it might clear my head a little, and the ride to school really did help a bit, but in the end it just invited trouble.
“Are you going to finally give me a ride?” Shawna asked.
I jumped at the sound of her voice behind me. Her last class was at the other end of the school, and I’d rushed out to the parking lot as soon as the final bell rang, so I have no idea how she made it out there so fast.
“I…uh…,” I stammered as I turned around to face her.
“You gave me a hard time last time because I had Weed take me home, but I’m actually dressed for the occasion today.”
She wasn’t wrong. The tight jeans she was wearing looked great, and were better suited for a ride. Those pants and the slightly low cut blouse made it hard to come up with any good excuse to turn her down.
“Uh, sure. Why not?” I replied, while trying to force a smile to match hers.
Her smile widened as I handed her the helmet.
The bike had one long seat with more than enough room for the two of us to fit comfortably even with a little space between us, but she slid right up against me as I started the bike.
“We can take the long way back to my place if you want,” she yelled above the engine.
With her legs straddling mine and her arms wrapped around my chest, I definitely wanted to take the longest way possible so I pulled from the parking lot and headed straight for the city limits. I didn’t have any specific path in mind, as we just kept taking random roads further away from the school, our homes, and anything that reminded me of reality. I was just enjoying the freedom that only the open ride could provide and the chance to share it with Shawna.
I had plenty of gas, so I wasn’t even thinking about turning around until I started to recognize some of the landscape and realized exactly where we were headed. There were several other roads I could have taken but I decided to continue towards the salvage yard anyway. I got a little choked up as we passed the giant tire and gravel drive. In my mind I could see Finkenbine’s enormous silhouette moving through the garage beside the trailer.
I don’t know if Shawna actually sensed something or not, but at that moment she seemed to hold me just a little tighter.
If I could’ve had just one wish, it would have been for that ride to last forever, but I knew that wasn’t possible, and continuing to ride with her holding on to me was only making the reality of my situation even more painful. No matter how much I wanted it, I knew that I couldn’t outrun my responsibility on that bike. The only real option I had was to face it, so once we reached the quarry I turned the bike around and we headed back towards her place.
The next morning I may have been a little too excited to drive Pamela to school for the first time, because I was one of the first students to pull into the parking lot. I didn’t mind though, I just enjoyed having things almost back to normal, even if I missed the KZ a little. But it wasn’t like I had to choose between one or the other. After school I’d just have to walk to Weed’s to get the bike, then I could alternate between them.
I was still thinking about the bike when I heard a familiar voice, and for a moment I couldn’t decide if I was happy about it or not.
“Are you ready for your last assignment?” Lucifer asked.
The new radio was glowing red, just like the old one did when he spoke through it.
“That’s a tough question,” I replied. “On one hand, It’ll be nice not wondering who I have to kill next, but on the other hand I’ll miss your late night visits and sparkling conversation.”
“Well, if you’d like to extend your tenure as a reaper…”
“That was sarcasm.”
“And so was mine,” he replied, “though if you’re interested in the opportunity….”
“I really appreciate the offer to remain your servant, but I think I’ll pass”
“Not really a servant, more like an employee.”
“Thanks, but I think I need to find a new line of work.”
“You say that now, but a month or two after completing your last job, you might change your mind. You have to admit that there’s a certain thrill when you’re helping rid the world of evil people.”
“Evil?” I laughed. “Like the little old special ed teacher?”
“And you don’t consider a premeditated murder evil?”
“I’m not going to debate morality with you. I’m just looking forward to being done with you.”
“That hurts a little, but speaking of completing your end of the deal, here comes your last assignment.”
I looked around frantically, trying to see the teacher or bus driver I was going to have to kill next. I was so focused on who I wanted the assignment to be that I almost didn’t see Shawna headed right for me.
“No,” I said. “There’s no way.”
“You know the deal,” he replied. “One touch and you’ll see.”
The red light was still fading away as Shawna reached the driver side door.
“Ooh, you got her done!”
Her excitement was just the reaction I’d hoped for, but my mind was still reeling from the shock of what Lucifer had just said.
“I…uh…yeah,” I replied, “and you know, weed helped a little.”
She laughed, her beautiful laugh, and grinned her beautiful grin. For a moment everything seemed right with the world.
“So maybe you could give me a ride home tonight?”
“You sure you don’t want a ride from Weed, or anyone else who isn’t me?”
I don’t know why I said it, but the words were out of my mouth before I even thought about what I was saying.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t really mean that.”
“No, you’re right. I haven’t made things easy between us lately. But I want that to change.”
There was a look in her eyes that made my heart skip a beat and I didn’t know how to respond. Thankfully I didn’t have to because Weed pulled in right beside us.
“Hey guys!” he yelled before he’d even shut off his engine.
“Hey there,” Shawna called out as he climbed out of the Chevette. “Nate was just telling me all the things he taught you about cars while you two finished Pamela.”
It worked. Shawna got her reaction as Weed opened his mouth to start arguing before the grin flashed across her face.
“Okay,” he said, with a slight look of shame. “You had me, you really did.”
Shawna and I were both laughing too hard for Weed to even pretend to be mad. He just lit up a cigarette and laughed along with us. For a minute it was great having everything feel like normal again, laughing with my two favorite people in the world, except for the fact that I was supposed to kill one of them.
The rest of the day didn’t go as well as the morning. I tried all day long to talk to Weed about what happened in my car that morning, but I never seemed to have a chance. I also didn’t know how I was going to bring it up to him, I just knew that I needed to talk to someone about it, and preferably before I had to be alone in the car with Shawna. Things never seem to work out the way we want, though.
“Are you ready to go?” Shawna asked as she walked around to the passenger side door.
“I was really hoping to talk to Weed for a minute before we head out,” I replied.
“You can always drop me off, then head to his place. It’s not like he has any other place to go or friend’s to hang out with.”
I almost choked while trying to stifle a laugh.
“I’m sure he’d love to hear that.”
“Then make sure you tell him I said it, but after you drop me off.”
I glanced around one more time for Weed, then slid into the car and started her up.
“She turned out better than I thought she would,” Shawna said, slipping into the passenger seat.
“Thanks,” was all I could think to say back.
“Are you still calling her Pamela now that you’ve driven her or did you change your mind about which supermodel to name her after?”
“Oh, she’s definitely a Pamela,” I replied.
“Somehow I knew that.”
Then the awkwardness won out, and we finished the trip in silence, up until the moment I pulled to a stop in front of her house.
“Aren’t you going to ask about Matt?”
“Why? Do you want to talk about him?”
“Maybe just a little.”
“So you guys broke up?”
“You can say that. We had a big fight about how he treated me.
“I didn’t mean it like that, I just meant that it’s good you’re sticking up for yourself.”
“Would you expect anything else from me?”
“I don’t know. I wouldn’t have doubted the old Shawna, but it kind of feels like things have changed a bit after this summer, like I don’t really know who you are right now.”
“I’m the same girl I’ve always been, just maybe ready to try some new things…like dating.”
“And how’d that turn out for you?” I asked, finally turning to look at her. That’s when I really heard her words.
“Ouch,” she said.
“I, uh really didn’t mean it like it sounded.”
“No, you’re right. He was charming, and great looking and…”
“And I really don’t need to hear that.”
“But that’s only because I really didn’t know him. He asked me out, and I was flattered so I said yes. We had fun this summer and I thought I got to know him, but it was only recently that I got to know the real him.”
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry it turned out like it did.”
“Thanks, but I’m kind of glad it did. It let me know what I don’t want, and a little of what I do.”
There was that look in her eyes again, the kind of look that made me wish I could kiss her, but there was no way I could let that happen, no matter how much I wanted it.
“Well, I should probably get to Weed’s,” I said, after a few moments of silence.
For a second she just stared at me like I had a second head growing out of my neck.
“Yeah,” she replied, “and I should probably get to this homework.”
We both sat there for another moment, then she opened the car door. I wanted to stop her, to tell her exactly what was going on. But even though it might make me feel a little better, I had no idea what it would do to her. And I had no right making my problem, hers. So I just watched as she made her way to the front door. She turned to look at me one more time and all I could do was wave, then drive off with all the words I wanted to say stuck in my throat.
Weed didn’t say anything the rest of the ride home, and neither did I. We just listened to Def Leppard sing about heartbreak, which was a little too fitting. Maybe I freaked him out a little, I wasn’t sure. I just knew that I’d freaked myself out a lot. I wanted it to all be over because not knowing the identity of my next assignment was Hell, but I’m sure that was part of Lucifer’s game.
“Okay,” Weed said as we pulled into his driveway, “let’s think this through.”
“That really doesn’t sound like you.”
“I’m serious,” he replied, “it’s not like you really have many friends, so…”
“I really don’t want to do this.”
“I don;t want to think about this anymore. It’s all I ever think about…who’s next and what could they have possibly done. I was hoping tonight would help me get away from those thoughts, and it did for a while, but then it made it worse.”
“I’m sorry,” Weed said. I think that was the first time he had ever apologized. Even when he convinced me to sled down Black Bear Hill because he was sure I could stop before hitting the Miller’s electric fence, and he was wrong, all he did was laugh. I wasn’t sure I liked this new repentant Weed.
“It wasn’t your fault,” I said. “You had no way of knowing what would happen. I didn’t even know it would happen.
“Still, I shouldn’t have pressured you to go out.”
“Maybe you’re right about that, but I know how you can make it up to me.
“Let’s take the Monster Box upstairs and see if we can help me forget everything.”
“It’s a deal.”
Twenty minutes later we were comfortably numb up in Weed’s room watching Bio-Dome. It really was a terrible movie but we couldn’t stop from laughing through the whole thing. When it ended, we put in Airheads and continued laughing until I fell asleep with a perfect sense of peace. I don’t have a clue what time that was, but I know exactly what time I woke the next morning; 7:30 AM. I know this, because all six radio alarm clocks positioned around my head were flashing that exact time as “Don’t Fear the Reaper” blasted from their speakers.
I jumped up, immediately slamming my head into the pots and pans Weed had tied from the ceiling directly above me.
“Seriously?” I asked, as I fell back onto the couch.
Weed was laughing his ass off from across the room.
“Now why’d you think it was me?”
He was trying hard to look innocent, but it wasn’t working.
“And that last song goes out to Nate, from his best friend Weed…” the Dj announced way too loudly from the radios. It really was a nice touch.
“7:30 on a Sunday morning?” I asked, as he tried to stop laughing. “I thought that would go against everything you stood for.”
“After everything you’ve done to me? I owed you, big time. And sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the greater good.”
“Pranking me is part of the greater good?”
“Well yeah, a little bit, but that’s not what I’m talking about.”
I just stared at him.
“I figured if we got up at a decent time, today will be the day we finish Pamela,” he explained.
It suddenly made sense. The only thing that could get him out of bed that early on a Sunday was a car…or a hot cheerleader. But since I made us bail on the girls I had a feeling it would be a little while before he had a chance with a cheerleader again.
“You want me to make you some of my special juice?”
“No…I don’t think I’ll ever want that again. I just need a little regular kick in the pants. You got any Jolt?”
“Of course,” he replied, pulling one from the case under his bed.
I definitely preferred it cold, but beggars can’t be choosers, so I chugged the can as we made our way down the stairs and out to the garage to finish my car.
We took our time, just enjoying ourselves, but by four that afternoon we had changed spark plugs, plug wires, air filter, serpentine belt, thermostat, and distributor cap. We jetted the carburetor, adjusted the timing and even changed the oil; basically we’d done a complete tune-up.
“You ready for this?” Weed asked as I slid into the driver’s seat.
“Oh yeah,” I replied, but then I hesitated. Working on Pamela had been a perfect distraction from all the other shit I had going on with Lucifer, and with Shawna. Without the car to work on, I wasn’t sure exactly how I’d cope.
“Well come on,” Weed said. “We need to get her out of her so we can start on the Weed Wagon.”
And there were the words I needed to hear. After Pamela we would work on the Weed Wagon. Then the KZ would need more power. Then Weed would need a bike, or another car, or an airplane. I really didn’t know what he would come up with after that, all I really knew was that as long as Weed was around, I’d have everything I needed to get by.
“So are you going to sit there playing with yourself or start her up?”
I barely turned the key and Pamela fired right up, purring like a kitten while I just sat there grinning; grinning at Weed doing his happy dance, grinning at the car running better than she ever had, grinning because one project was completed and my deal was just about to be done. From where I was sitting, life actually looked pretty good. I loved riding the KZ, but I could picture Shawna riding next to me in the car. I could see us at the drive-in, or taking a picnic lunch to the park, or even just laying out on the hood while we stared up at the stars
I shook my head, to clear Shawna from my thoughts, then hollered for Weed.
“Are you going to get your ass in here or am I going to take the test drive without you?”
He stopped mid-splits, with a look of panic and pain on his face. For a minute I thought I was going to have to help him get back up but he managed to fall backwards before jumping up to his feet again and rushing to the passenger side door. Two minutes later we were within sight of the city limit sign. I looked down the road as far as I could see, then checked the rearview mirror; there wasn’t another car anywhere to be seen. I looked over at Weed, then floored it, throwing both of us back against the seets.
The speedometer just kept rising for almost half a mile, and so did the smiles on our faces. Pamela had more acceleration and top end speed than ever, but at the same time, the new tires and suspension made her ride and handle like a brand new car. I kept the gas pedal pinned to the floor until I saw the glint of sun reflecting off another car coming the opposite way. Sheriffs and State Highway patrol liked to cruise the backroads near us occasionally, and I wasn’t ready to lose my license, especially not right after I got my car back, so I let her drop back down to the posted speed limit.
“See,” Weed said, “Better than new, just like I told you.”
“You’re right,” I replied, without turning to look at him. “Thanks for that, and you know, for everything.”
“You don’t need to thank me. That’s just what friends do.”
After that, we just sat in silence, cruising the backroads until the sun started to set. I could have just kept driving all night but I didn’t want to give mom any reason to worry, so I headed back much sooner than I would have liked.
“It’s really nice having things back to normal,” Weed said as we pulled into his driveway.
“Almost,” I replied.
“You’re in the home stretch, though.”
“That’s if I can bring myself to do the last one.”
“We know it’s not me, and there’s no way Shawna has done anything remotely bad in her whole life, so it can’t be anyone really important, now, can it?”
I almost laughed at that.
“I mean sure, it would suck to have to off some hottie you just hooked up with, but I’m sure there will be others.”
That time I had to laugh, but then I remembered the box in the garage. I didn’t want to bring down our good time, but having told Weed everything else I figured I couldn’t stop now.
“There is another possibility,” I said.
“You couldn’t get lucky enough for it to be vice-principal Miller.”
“What I wouldn’t give for it to be him.”
“So if not him, then who?”
So that’s when I told him about the box and the restraining order. I felt a little bad, sharing mom’s secret, but I needed Weed to understand my thought process.
“Okay, he said, “so your dad apparently had some issues but you’ve never known the guy right? So it would almost be your easiest one. To you he’d just be another bad guy.”
“So do you think you could off your dad?”
Weed was in the same boat as me. He’d never known his dad either. We had talked about it a couple of times as kids, joked about which celebrity might be our father, but it had been years since either of us had even mentioned the men who didn’t want anything to do with us. I almost felt bad for asking him. But he didn’t hesitate to answer.
“In a heartbeat,” he said without blinking.
“Yeah. He never did anything for me, so I’d see it as his way of making amends, even if he didn’t have a choice.”
“I’m still not so sure I would be able to, but that’s not what I’m most worried about.”
“Maybe I’m just a little jaded from seeing what these other people have done, but, I mean, even Ms. Reader offed her husband…”
“You mean…your mom?
“I’m just saying that if my dad did something horrible enough for my mom to get a restraining order, if he was that bad of a person, and she feared for her life, what would she have done if the restraining order didn’t work?”
“No….” he said. “There’s no way.”
“Finkenbine said Lucifer likes to play these games and make the last one the hardest. And you said it yourself, I’m really not close to very many people. Even Finkenbine suggested it might be a possibility”
“But your mom? I mean, Finkenbine never even met her, so he’d have no way of knowing…and there’s no way Lucifer would do that to you…I mean, he wouldn’t…would he?
“I really don’t know.”
He just stood there for a second until the shocked look was replaced with a matter-of-fact look.
“There’s one way to find out,” he said.
“Wait for him to tell me who it is?”
“Okay, I guess that’s one way, but I was going to say you could just ask your mom what happened to your dad.”
“I don’t know…”
“Or like you said, you could just wait around, wondering but not actually knowing.”
He was right, but I wasn’t sure I could actually ask my mom about my dad.
“Speaking of my mom,” I said, “I really should head home.”
“Is that your way of kicking me out of your car after all the work I put into helping you fix her?”
“You’re such an ass.”
“But you love me anyways.”
“I just can’t say no to your pretty face.”
“Okay now you’re just getting creepy,” I said, shoving him out the half open door.
“See you in the AM,” he replied with a laugh and a wave.
The short drive home didn’t give me a chance to clear my head, or make a decision about talking to mom. I figured I was going to play it by ear once I got inside, I just wasn’t expecting her to step out the back door as soon as I pulled into the driveway. My first thought was “what did I do wrong now?”
“You got her done?” She said with a smile, before I’d even shut off the ignition.
“Yeah, and she’s running better than ever.”
“Well I’m glad to hear it, but you can’t park there.”
I just stared for a second, not quite sure how to respond.
“I guess I could park out front.”
“Or you could just pull in there,” she said, raising the second garage door.
The grin on my face was only matched by the grin on hers.
“You did such a great job on the garage, that I figured I could do a little more so you could fit her inside.”
The whole place looked great, so I knew mom must have spent hours out there, but it looked even better with Pamela parked in it.
“Thanks mom,” I said, as we walked inside the house, but I really couldn’t thank her enough. I also knew I couldn’t bring up the subject of my dad or the restraining order.
It took no time to get to the bowling alley, even in the Weed Wagon. I had wanted to take the KZ, just in case I was ready to leave before Weed. Unfortunately he seemed to know exactly what I was thinking and insisted on driving so I was left to his mercy. But I still wasn’t sure why we didn’t take the Chevette. It may not have looked much better than the mail truck but at least it was faster.
“Look man, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”
“Too late now,” he said, grabbing the keys from the ignition and sliding open the mail truck door.
“You know I can hotwire this thing with the screwdriver in the glovebox, don’t you?”
I was only half joking.
“Don’t make me get the cattle prod,” he said, motioning to the toolbox behind his seat.
Unfortunately I had no idea if he’d actually brought it.
We sat staring at each other with our poker faces on for at least a minute, before we both started cracking up.
“Fine,” I replied, “but if we’re doing this I’m going to need a little helper.”
“I’ve gotcha covered,” he replied, pulling out two Big Red bottles.
I knew Weed, so I also knew there was no way it was red cream soda in them.
“Nah, that’d probably be a little too much. It’s MD 20/20.”
“Mad Dog? Good choice.”
“I’m glad you approve. Now can we get in there and have a little fun?”
I took a big drink from the bottle Weed handed me and scanned the parking lot. It was still pretty early but the place was already almost full. That meant we’d probably be waiting on a lane or any of the video games in the arcade. I took another drink, then finally turned back to Weed. The look on his face told me he wanted to be there even more than I didn’t want to be there, so there was no way I could make him leave but I couldn’t resist making him wait just a little longer either.
Pulling a cigarette from my pack, I patted my pockets, pretending to not be able to find my lighter. Exasperated, he pulled out his butane powered torch and lit it for me, then climbed out the door.
“Now I’m going in, with or without you,” he said, slamming the door shut.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” I replied. “Don’t get your panties in a bunch.”
“They’re your mom’s panties, so…”
“Wow, you did not just go there.”
I couldn’t hear his reply over the sounds of Mötley Crüe’s Girls, Girls, Girls, spilling from the doorway as we went inside but the grin on his face told me he was very pleased with himself.
As I had feared, the place was packed. Groups of teens were hanging out around the various tables, collecting their bowling shoes from the counter, or just hanging out in any space they could find. We couldn’t see the actual lanes from just inside the door but based on the scoreboards shown on the televisions hanging above each one, I was pretty sure they were all taken.
“We might’ve been better off staying at your place.”
“Nonsense,”he replied. “First of all, we got your pathetic self out of the house.”
He wasn’t wrong.
“And second of all,” he rambled on while scanning the various groups around us, “If we’d stayed there, you’d have zero chance of getting to second base with some hot chick.”
“I don’t know,” I replied, “I think your mom has a thing for me…”
“You know you deserved that.”
“But come to think of it, I could do worse for a step-dad…”
“Okay now you’re just taking it a little too far.”
“Maybe a little, so how about we turn our attention to all the possibilities surrounding us.”
He made a good point. There were plenty of girls hanging out everywhere, and a lot of them seemed to be unattached, but even if luck was on my side, I wasn’t sure I was ready to just hook up with some random hottie.
“I thought you said I needed a night of video games?”
“Video games, bowling, girls, there’s no reason we should limit ourselves to just one form of entertainment.”
It was really hard to argue with that logic.
“How about you scout out the arcade while I check out the lanes?” He said.
“And should I be looking for open games or girls?”
“Yes,” he said, before turning and heading into the crowd.
I thought about heading right back outside, but I hadn’t been to the bowling alley for quite a while so I was a little curious if they’d updated their arcade selection.
It took a couple minutes, and a little too much maneuvering past too many people for me to reach the entrance of the arcade area. There were no overhead lights on inside, but the flashing screens from each game cabinet provided more than enough light to make my way from one machine to the next. Many of them were the same old games that had been there forever, but I did find a few new ones.
There were a couple guys with light guns in their hands, ducking for cover, then popping out to mow down an army of bad guys, trying to get through the levels of Time Crises before time expired.
Another updated machine featured the newest version of Tekken, which allowed the players to join together in team battles against the never ending stream of opponents. The graphics on the cutting edge game, and the game play itself, looked amazing but there was a line of guys waiting at each machine for their turn. I really wasn’t in the mood to stand around, watching and waiting so I moved on.
Towards the rear of the arcade area were the older games that didn’t have the flashy graphics or immersive 3D worlds of the newer ones. Dig-Dug, Q*bert and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had become too oldschool for a lot of people, but not for Weed and definitely not for me. We still prefered Out Run to newer racing games like Cruis’n USA. Not that the new games weren’t enjoyable, but they didn’t quite hold the same appeal. And on the plus side, there were a lot less people waiting to play them.
Some obvious noob had just missed an easy jump over a barrel on the first level of Donkey Kong, using up his last life and the last of his patients as I walked up to the machine.
“Stupid game, not even worth playing,” he grunted as he walked away. I had to laugh at him as I grabbed the joystick to try my hand at it. Not because of his reaction, but because I remembered being just as bad when I first started playing. The game, like most older games, really was about timing and reflexes. Thankfully I had gotten much better in the hours of practice I had, before I got into cars.
The screen finished flashing “Game Over” and I was just about to press the start button when Weed appeared beside me.
“What are you doing?”
“You said games or girls,” I replied. “This was what I found.”
“Okay, it may be true that I said that, but you know girls trump games.”
“And if you look around, you’ll notice there really aren’t any in here, so Donkey Kong it is.”
“And if you’ll look around, you’ll see two hotties headed our direction now,” he replied.
I followed his gaze back towards the entrance to the arcade area, but the only girls I saw kept walking right past on their way to the bowling lanes and concession stand.
“Okay, so they might still be another minute,” he said, turning back to me, “but not long enough for you to get in a whole game of DK.”
“And what happens if these imaginary girls don’t show?”
“They’re coming,” he continued.“And besides, I got us a table.”
“Really? That was quick.”
During Rock N Bowl the pool tables only cost a dollar an hour, so even the guys who didn’t want to throw balls down the lane or or mash buttons of the video game machines all night usually showed up for the cheap 8-ball which meant there was usually a list a mile long waiting for one.
“How much did it cost you?”
“Mikey was working the counter so we got off cheap; one joint now and one when we leave.”
“And it’s ours for the night?”
“As long as we want it, or at least until his shift is over at 2:00.”
“I knew there was some reason I kept you around.”
“You mean besides my amazing personality?”
He couldn’t even say it with a straight face.
“So what table did we get?”
“Table eight in the corner.”
“Works for me.”
Weed racked the balls as I found each of us a cue that was relatively straight. Nine ball was my prefered game but Weed liked 8 ball, so that’s what we started with. After all, it was his joint that got us the table.
“And you’re sure these girls are actually coming?”
“And you’re sure this isn’t just like what happened at the party?”
“It’s funny you should say that,” he replied with a grin.
I didn’t know what to say when he pulled a wallet from his pocket, the same wallet that had been stolen from him the night of the party.
He just continued to grin at me for a second, then glanced over my shoulder and waved.
As I turned around I saw two smiling girls headed right towards us, one of which looked like the cute little cheerleader Weed had left me for just before my accident.
“Please tell me this is some sort of joke.”
“Not at all. Apparently that night was some sort of cheerleading initiation thing. The next day she felt bad, and must have liked something I did, or something she saw, because she’s been looking for me ever since. She and her friend actually came here tonight because she heard we used to come here.”
“I believe that she felt bad for you, I mean, we all do, but…”
“Shush, now be cool.”
The girls reached the table, and with mostly-sober eyes I realized Weed’s thief wasn’t quite as young as I’d remembered, but I was still sure she wasn’t an upperclassman, though that really didn’t matter to Weed. Her friend, though, I recognized as a senior, but we didn’t run in the same circles at all, so I wasn’t sure what her name was.
“Tiffany,” she said, introducing herself as the younger one, Stephanie, moved next to Weed.
“Yeah, I kinda know that.”
“The whole walking out on Mr. Baker’s class thing, and then saving Ms Reader from the burning car…”
The memory of Ms. Reader brought back some dark thoughts, and apparently I did a horrible job hiding it.
“I’m sorry,” she said, gently touching my arm. “I didn’t mean to bring up, you know, I just meant that pretty much everyone knows who you are now.”
“I don’t know if that’s such a good thing…”
“So Nate,” Weed said, saving us from our awkward conversation. “I promised these ladies that we would teach them how to shoot pool.”
“Don’t you think someone should teach you first?”
The girls laughed and Weed started to turn red, so it was a good start to the night, at least for me.
Weed teamed up with Stephanie for the first game, which gave me Tiffany. To my surprise, though, Tiffany didn’t seem to need me to teach her a thing about pool. Weed broke, sinking the ten and the four balls. He tried to pocket the six, but missed and scratched instead.
I’ve got this one, Tiffany said, grabbing the cue ball from Weed.
She then proceeded to sink the two, three and six balls before finally missing a tough bank shot on the yellow number one. Weed and I just stared, and even Stephanie seemed surprised by her friend’s sudden skill. I would have thought we were being played, except she was on my team, and there were no stakes.
“Don’t worry about that,” Weed said to Stephanie, “It must be beginner’s luck. We can still rally.”
Standing behind her, with his arms around hers, Weed helped Stephanie grab the cue and line up a shot. They seemed to be taking a lot more time than necessary, and both seemed to be enjoying the whole process. Tiffany and I just kinda looked at each other.
“Maybe we should give them a little space,” she said to me.
“Maybe,” I replied, “but knowing Weed it won’t take long.”
The words came out of my mouth just as Stephanie was about to take her shot, but the sudden burst of laughter made her miss the cue ball completely, and hit the nine ball right next to it.
“Hey now,” Weed said, but I wasn’t sure if his objection was to what I said or to his partner’s reaction.
“I believe that’s another scratch,” Tiffany replied, handing me the cue ball.
Several hours, and way too many games of 8-ball later, I found myself out in the parking lot, smiling, laughing and feeling much more relaxed than I had in quite a while. I really wasn’t sure where this thing with Tiffany was going to go, or if I wanted it to go anywhere, but what I did know was that she was leaning against her car waiting for me to kiss her. I took a step forward, but before I could make my move, she leaned forward and kissed me.
It had been a while since I’d kissed a girl but it was by far the best one I’d ever had. There was an excitement and a passion in it that told me she wanted me, and at that moment I wanted her too. She wrapped her arms around me so I moved my hand to caress her neck and that’s when the images came flooding in.
Instinctively I pulled back.
“What’s wrong?” She asked.
The shock on her face probably mirrored the look on mine.
“Nothing’s wrong,” I lied. “That…was great…”
“I thought so too…So why aren’t we still doing it?”
The look on her face was part anticipation and part hurt. And I didn’t want to hurt her.
“I’m sorry, I…uh…just remembered that we were supposed to pick my mother up from work.”
“Like, ten minutes ago,” I said, looking at my watch.
I turned around and Weed had stopped his makeout session with Stephanie and was staring over her shoulder at me with a confused look on his face.
“I’m sorry,” I said to all of them. “I really am, but Weed, we need to go.”
Like the true friend he was, Weed backed my play. He even waited until we were a block away from the bowling alley before he ripped into me.
“What the Hell man?”
“I’m sorry, really, really sorry.”
“Please tell me there is some really, really good explanation for why I don’t still have Stephanie’s tongue in my mouth.”
“Because I touched Tiffany.”
“That’s kind of how making out works.”
“And when I touched her…the images started coming…”
“So it’s not something you can turn on and off?”
“So what’d you see?”
“Nothing really, I pulled away as soon as they started because I didn’t want to see anything.”
“Why not? You could see all of her dirty little secrets.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“There’s nothing wrong with knowing how kinky she really is.”
“That’s the problem, I don’t just know if she’s had lustful thoughts, or if she’s lied, or simple things like that, I see it all.”
“And…what if she’s done something really bad?”
“How bad could it be?”
“I’m not sure I want to find out.”
“Why not? What if she’s a sex fiend?”
“Good point,” I replied, “but what if she’s my last assignment?”
“So do you have any plans for the weekend?” Mom asked as I fixed a bowl of cereal.
“I thought I’d go to a biker bar, maybe join a gang or just a satanic cult, then elope to vegas with a prostitute.”
“Remember what I said about being smart,” she replied, taking a sip of her coffee, “and make sure you get a prenup.”
“You really take the fun out of being a smartass.”
“I know. So what are your actual plans.”
“I’ll probably spend all my time at Weed’s, putting the finishing touches on my car.”
“That sounds like a good idea.”
“Yeah, you know I like Weed, for whatever reason, and I’m glad you’re not letting everything that happened with Shawna drag you down.”
“So you wouldn’t mind if I just stayed over at his place tonight?”
“To be honest, I could use a night off of worrying about you being home alone.”
“You know you don’t have to worry about me.”
“Yes, as a mother, I do. But I also know Nancy will keep a good eye on you.”
“Right,” I said, not wanting to ruin whatever illusion she had about Weed’s mom.
“And speaking of Weed, I should probably get over there. I’m sure he’s already started without me.”
“Just remember what I said,” she replied.
“I will,” I replied, “but shouldn’t you be getting yourself to bed?”
“This is my second cup of coffee; I’m good for a couple loads of laundry first.”
She went to work in the laundry room so I grabbed a bagel and took it upstairs to eat while I finished packing a bag for Weed’s. 10 minutes later I was heading back downstairs with my helmet and bag in my hands.
“Bye mom,” I called through the open laundry room door.
“Bye,” she replied. “I’d tell you not to give Nancy any hassle, but I know she won’t take any of that from you.”
She was both right and wrong about Weed’s mom. She wouldn’t take any crap from me, or anyone else, but she sure let us get away with a few things my mom didn’t need to know about.
It was a nice day to be on the bike but I decided not to go for a joy ride and instead went straight to Weed’s. I was still reminiscing about some of the studpid stuff he and I had gotten away with by the time I reached his driveway. Pamela was visible through the open garage door, but I opted to head to the front porch first.
Weed’s mom was standing in the open doorway before I’d even reached the top step.
“You get in trouble?” She asked with a nod to my overnight bag.
Being the only son of a single mother meant I’d gotten into trouble with her on multiple occasions. Each time I seemed to end up at Weed’s until things had cooled off a bit, and his mom never turned me away. I think she saw it as a better alternative to me ending up somewhere else.
“Nah,” I replied, “not exactly. I just thought mom could use a night of not worrying about me.”
“She deserves a lot more than one night of that,” she said, “but it’s a start. And you know you’re always welcome here, though if you stay too long I’ll have to start treating you the same way I treat that son of mine.”
“Speaking of Weed,” I said, “is he still asleep?”
“At nine-thirty on a saturday morning? You know it.”
She didn’t even ask as I pulled a paintball gun from my bookbag.
“Just remember,” she said, “you’ve got to clean up any mess, not already there.”
“It’ll be worth it,” I said.
My paintball gun was a cheap one that didn’t have the velocity of the more expensive ones, but from a couple feet away it still hurt like crazy.
I was about to creep up the stairs as quietly as possible, before realizing it was Weed I was going after. He could sleep through an earthquake, so I stopped wasting the effort and took the stairs two at a time, making as much noise as possible. Of course it didn’t faze him, but bursting through his door, and unloading several shots to his groin area did.
“Ow! Holy shit! What the hell is that smell!” all came out of his mouth before his eyes even opened.
“You never should have let me know about those 68 caliber skunk spray balls.”
“Yeah,” he said while still writhing under his blankets, “I think I’ve learned my lesson. From now on I’ll keep my best ideas to myself.”
“I’m sure you’ll get me back soon enough,” I said, but for now I’ve got a favor to ask.”
“That’s how you asked for a favor?”
“Only when I’m sure you won’t say no.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”
“Oh, but I am.”
“And why is that?” he asked, finally sitting up.
“Because you never say no to a saturday night of car work, John Hughes films and a packed bowl or two.”
“Sleep over?” He asked.
Before I could respond he rushed to the door and hollard down the stairs.
“Hey Mom! Do you think Nate can…”
“I saw his bag and didn’t send him back home, now didn’t I?” She yelled back.
“You’re the best!”
“I know! But you need to remember that next time I have to ground you!”
“I know that too,” she yelled back, but by then Weed was already throwing on a semi-clean t-shirt and a worn out pair of shoes.
It took us much longer than I would have thought to replace the windshield, but we were being extra careful. FInkenbine had said it was the only one he could find. The memory of him started to bring me down again, so I pushed the thought from my mind and just continued working on the car. I knew getting her done would have made him happy, even if she was only the “president of the glee club”.
“Food’s on the table,” Weed’s mom hollered from the front porch, just as we finished tightening the last bolt. “You better come get it before it gets cold.”
Weed was covered head to toe in six different shades of grease and rust, and my hands were completely black so he headed to the upstairs bathroom for a quick shower while I tried to scrub my hands clean in the kitchen sink.
“So you’ve been having a few issues lately?” Weed’s mom asked, as I dried my still stained hands.
“Weed tell you that?”
“You know he wouldn’t break your confidence unless it was life or death, and even then I’m not sure he would. But he didn’t have to; I’ve known you since before you could walk. I can tell when something’s not quite right.”
“It’s nothing, just typical teenager stuff,” I lied.
“So problems with Shawna?”
I froze, not quite sure how to respond.
“I’ve seen the two of you growing up together. It was only a matter of time…”
“Maybe a little to do with her, but honestly, it’s nothing, really.”
“Okay,” she said, turning back to the stove, “Just remember that I’m always here if you need a female perspective on anything.”
“It smells great,” Weed said, sliding down the staircase railing. I couldn’t tell if he just had impeccable timing, or if he’d been waiting for us to finish our little conversation.
Weed’s mom set down a platter of crispy fried chicken right in the center of the table, followed by bowls of mashed potatoes and coleslaw. My mouth was watering before I even finished filling my plate.
“So you boys have plans after dinner?”
“Not really,” Weed replied. “Maybe just watch a movie or two.”
“Two single, teenage boys are going to stay in on a saturday night? Are you both feeling ill?”
Weed and I just looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders.
“I hear there might be something going on at the old Johnston place,” she continued.
Weed and I both stopped mid bite. I’m not sure if we were more surprised that she knew about that party, or that we didn’t.
“We’ll think about it,” Weed said, before shoveling some more food into his mouth. I followed suit.
Our silence seemed to work, as his mom didn’t push us about going out anymore and for that I was thankful. But after dinner we headed up to Weed’s room to watch a movie, only none of them really sounded good.
“She’s right, you know,” Weed said as he cracked the window and lit a cigarette.
“I know she’s right, but I wasn’t going to tell her that.”
“And how did she know about the party at the Johnston place and we didn’t?”
“She’s your mom, you tell me.”
“We are two young, veral guys. We shouldn’t be holed up in a room watching movies on a Saturday night.”
“So you’re wanting to go out to the Johnston place?”
“Of course not,” he replied. “If my mom knows about it then how good could it possibly be?”
“Good enough for us to not get an invite?”
He just ignored me.
“And if she knows about it, then other parents have to know about it, so it’ll be broken up before it gets really good,” he said, plopping down beside the open window and lighting up a cigarette.
He did kinda have a point. And besides, I wasn’t really in the mood to go to a party. I mean, I wanted something to take my mind off Shawna and everything else that didn’t seem to be going right, but I wasn’t ready to just go get drunk with a lot of people I didn’t really like.
“There’s got to be something worth watching,” I said, thumbing through his movie collection, “or worth doing.”
He had every John Hughes, Chris Columbus and Tarantino movie ever made, but none of them sounded good. We really did need to get out of the house, only I was out of ideas. I was just about to start searching through his secret stash of movies when Weed popped up from his chair.
“What you need is a night of video games.”
“Too bad we don’t have anything but the old atari with one broken controller.”
Weed and I both loved video games but his NES got destroyed one wild night that neither of us remember very well. We’d talked about each of us chipping in to replace it, but Sony and Nintendo had both released amazing new game consoles so we decided to save our cash for one of them, only we couldn’t decide which. Weed was a major Nintendo fanboy so he wanted to go that direction but Sony’s system was much more high tech, so I was leaning that way.
“I’m not saying we should break out the atari,” he said, “I’m saying we should hit up the Rock ‘n Bowl.”
On Friday and Saturdays a local bowling alley would turn down the lights and crank up the music. For 5 bucks you could bowl all night and play every video game in the arcade for free. Rock ‘n Bowl had been a tradition of ours for a couple years, but eventually everyone within a fifty mile radius seemed to find out about it. In no time it became overcrowded and overpriced. We hadn’t been in over a year.
“So what do you say?”
I thought about it for a minute, and it did seem like a better idea than just sitting around his room until we fell asleep, but I still wasn’t sure.
“Come on, man,” Weed said. “We need a night out and who knows, maybe everyone’s forgotten about it by now.”
With his pathetic grin, and puppy dog eyes, I couldn’t say no any longer.
“Fine, we’ll give it a shot but just for a little while.”
“Mom, we’re going out!” he yelled as soon as the words had left my mouth. Instantly I knew I was going to regret it.
I saw Shawna at the other end of the hall twice throughout the day, but just waved. I wanted to go to her, to say something, but I really didn’t know what to say. I wanted to tell her she made a mistake with Matt, but she had to already know that. And part of me wanted to tell her exactly how I felt, but I couldn’t do that until I completed my deal with Lucifer. It wouldn’t be fair to drag her into that. And besides, I told myself, the whole thing was almost over.
When the final bell rang, releasing us from the last class of the day, I almost felt relieved that I hadn’t been forced to talk to Shawna but as I made my way across the parking lot I realized my luck had run out.
“Hey,” I said. “You look good.”
I don’t know why I said that, other than the fact that she did look really good. She was standing between my bike and Weed’s Chevette, wearing another skirt, this time a jean one. I had to force myself to keep my eyes on her face.
“You too,” she replied.
We just stood there for a minute, both trying to figure out what to say when Weed finally walked up and saved us from our self imposed awkwardness.
“Matt’s not here to give you a ride home?” He asked with all the tact of Denis Leary doing stand up.
“Ah, yeah,” Shawna said. “About that…uh…you won’t be seeing him around any more.”
Weed and I turned towards each other and the look on his face said he was thinking the same thing I was.
“What’d you do, bury his dead body in the backyard?”
Shawna paused for a second, then a mischievous look replaced the shock on her face.
“You know I’m much too smart for that,” she replied, “I buried his body behind your shed.”
Everything went dead silent, then the three of us burst out laughing at the same time. For a moment it was great feeling like everything was back to normal, but I knew nothing could really be normal until I completed my last assignment. I thought about reaching out and touching her, just to prove to myself that she wasn’t my final target. But I couldn’t do it. I knew she wasn’t capable of doing anything to put her on my list, but I also knew she wasn’t perfect. At some point she probably had done something she wouldn’t want me to know about, and I didn’t want to chance seeing that, whatever it might be. Doing so would feel like an invasion of her privacy.
“Seriously, though, I could actually use a ride home,” Shawna said.
“Of course,” I replied, before I’d given it any thought.
“Actually,” she replied, her eyes darting from Weed to me, and then back again. “I was hoping to get a ride from you, Weed.”
“Ouch,” I said.
“No, it’s not about you. I really do want a ride from you, and I’ll definitely take you up on that some day, but I don’t think this jean skirt and the bike are such a good mix.”
She was right, and I knew it, but I still felt a little rejected.
“Of course I can give you a ride,” Weed said, saving me once again from the awkward moment. “And you’re in luck, I just cleaned her out.”
“This is cleaned out?” She asked, throwing a pile of car magazines, two fast food bags and beat up Trapper Keeper from the front seat to the back.
”Yeah, there’s nothing but the necessities in there now.”
“Maybe I should have taken the chance of flashing everyone on your bike,” she said to me, just before finally climbing into Weed’s car.
“I’ll drop her off, safe and sound, then meet you at my place?” Weed asked.
As much as I wanted to follow behind them, I couldn’t come up with any good reason I would need to go that way at all.
“Sure thing,” I said before slipping on my helmet.
A few minutes later I pulled into Weed’s empty driveway, still trying to figure out some reason that I could have trailed behind Weed and Shawna. Not that I didn’t trust him, I knew he’d get her home fine. And I knew nothing was ever going to happen between them. But with things seeming to return to normal, I just wasn’t quite ready to not be near her. But being next to my car again helped that feeling a little.
I half expected Lucifer to respond with some snide remark. I was a little surprised when I didn’t hear his voice, but even more surprised at how disappointed I was that I hadn’t. I’m sure a lot of it was just the fact that I wanted to be done with the whole thing. One more assignment was all that was keeping everything from completely returning to normal, or at least as close to normal as things could be. I mean, I’d already killed four people, and so I wasn’t really looking forward to killing a fifth. Even though they deserved it, that was something I was going to have to live with. But putting it all behind me would be a start, and I was so close.
“Don’t you want to tell me who my last assignment is?” I asked.
I got no reply except for my own words echoing off the garage walls.
Slipping into the driver’s seat I tried again, this time directing my words to the radio. Not because I really thought Lucifer was possessing it, but it was as good a place to talk to as any.
“You like to play these games, but didn’t expect me to do this well, huh? You thought I’d break when I found out Finkenbine was number four didn’t you? But it didn’t happen, now did it? And it won’t. We made a deal, and I’ll stick with it. Will you?”
My anger rose with each word, but so did my determination. That’s when I realized I wasn’t talking for Lucifer’s benefit, but for mine. Not knowing my last assignment was driving me crazy, but maybe that was his goal. That thought was more than enough to solidify my determination.
“That’s just pitiful.”
I jumped at Weed’s voice, and nearly hit my head on the car roof.
“You’ll be back in the driver seat in no time,” he continued, “but we really should finish her before you start pretending to drive again.”
The goofy look on his face made me laugh.
“Shut up. I had to find something to do while you were off trying to hit on Shawna.”
It was his turn to laugh.
“Oh no, I don’t want anything to do with that mess.”
“I didn’t mean it like that, just that I’ve seen how messed up she’s got you so I’ll stick to my prep school girls.”
“Don’t forget the imaginary ones in the magazines beneath your bed.”
“How could I ever forget them?” He replied. “As a matter of fact, I think I’ll leave you down here to fantasize about Pamela while I go upstairs…”
“Don’t even think about it,” I said, climbing out of my car.
“Fine, then can we get started down here?”
“I was just waiting on your slow ass.”
“Slow? The Chevette is still warmed up. You want to go head to head around the block?”
I could see the gleam in his eye and knew he meant it. I also knew that the KZ really didn’t stand a chance against the Chevette.
“How about we just get started?”
There was a hint of disappointment on his face, but then he grabbed his mechanix gloves, cranked up the music and we got to work.
Friday passed like most Friday’s do, way too slow. Weed slept through every class, and I struggled to keep myself awake, but the normalcy of everything felt good. Shawna was taking the SATs the next day so she was too preoccupied with studying to interact much with us, but even that felt normal. The only thing that didn’t feel quite normal was the nagging itch in the back of my mind, wondering who was next.
It had already been one hell of a rough day, and I couldn’t have hoped for a better reaction from Weed so I hated to press my luck, but when we were both properly baked, I decided to anyway.
“So you know how Buck was Finkenbine’s last assignment?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Weed replied, while staring at his own hand.
“‘Cause he’d done stuff that made it possible for him to be a target?”
“And Finkenbine said Lucifer likes to do shit like that, trying to get you to break the deal?”
“Yeah,” he said again, moving his hand closer, then further from his face but never looking away.
“I don’t want to be put in that situation.”
“Damnit, can’t you say anything else?”
The anger in my voice seemed to break Weed from his trance.
“What are you trying to say?”
“I’m not trying to say anything, I’m trying to ask if there’s anything I should be worried about.”
“Wait, What? Your deal was for murderers, rapists and child molesters, right? Do you think I would do anything like that?”
“No, of course not. And I told Finkenbine that, but he insisted that Lucifer always has a plan to mess with you, especially on the last assignment. He said it’s always someone close to you, and you know, I’m not really close to too many people…”
“Not if you’re going to accuse them of that sort of stuff.”
“I’m not accusing you of anything, I’m just trying to figure out who Lucifer has in mind for me.”
“Well it sure as Hell ain’t me,” he replied.
“Good,” I said, laying back down.
Several minutes passed before Weed broke the silence.
“You don’t think…” he said before stopping himself.
“No, don’t give me that. Tell me where that messed up mind of yours went.”
“I was just thinking…”
“That’s always dangerous.”
“It’s just, like you said, you aren’t really close to anyone but me and Shawna.”
“And like I said, it sure as Hell isn’t me, so…”
“I’m just saying…”
“There’s no way that little miss straight A’s has done anything even remotely close to….”
“Maybe we don’t know her as well as we thought.”
“No chance. We’ve known her forever.”
“We don’t really know what she might have done this summer. I mean she came back with that jerk in the red ‘vette….”
“Wait, you might be onto something.”
“What? You think she and that guy might have killed someone?”
“No,” I said, suddenly sitting up straight. “I’m talking about whatever he did to her. It was bad enough for her to say she was going to ‘take care of it.”
“So what, you think she killed that jackass and then just acted like nothing happened?”
“We haven’t seen him since.”
Weed looked at me with a sudden understanding.
“And she’s kind of been avoiding us, like she has something to hide.”
“It couldn’t be, could it?”
“There’s only one way to find out, you’re going to have to ask her.”
“Oh yeah, just stroll up and say, hey, I know the guy was a jerk, so did you off him?”
“Yeah, that may not work so well.”
“We’ll just have to do a little detective work.”
“Or I could just wait until Lucifer gives me my last assignment.”
“I thought you wanted to know before so you could be prepared,” Weed said with a smug look I just wanted to smack from his face. But he was right.
“Okay, so tomorrow we’ll start snooping around.”
“Agreed,” he said, “but tonight we try to just forget everything.”
“Agreed,” I said, taking the bowl from his outstretched hand. A couple more puffs, and everything felt alright.
The next morning I wasn’t feeling too bad, except for a little cotton mouth. A glass of water would have helped a little but as I walked down the stairs my mouth started watering on it’s own thanks to the smells wafting up from the kitchen.
“I knew the smell of bacon would get you down here,” Weed’s mom said, “but it seems to have lost its effect on my son. Do you want to help with that?”
I thought about everything Weed had been through and everything he’d done for me. It was almost enough for me to turn down his mom’s offer, but then I saw the oversized water gun in her hands. I mean, he would do the same to me, or at least that’s what I told myself as I grabbed the weapon from her.
I could feel the icy water through the plastic as I made my way up the stairs and it brought a smile to my face. There was no way Weed would be able to sleep through that water hitting his face, if I could manage to find it beneath all the blankets covering his bed.
At the foot of his bed, I took a second to shift my grip on the gun to one hand so I could grab the covers in the other. I braced myself for any resistance, then pulled with all the strength. Surprisingly, the blankets came off easily but as I swung the water gun to point right where Weed should have been, I realized I’d been set up.
The firecracker exploded at my feet before I could jump over the bed for cover. Thankfully I managed to get to the otherside before I was hit with too much freezing cold water. Once behind a little protection, I gave the water gun a couple pumps for a little added pressure then popped up spraying anything that moved.
Weed had apparently been hiding in his closet, because the door now stood wide open, but he was smart enough not to get trapped in there and took the opportunity to make his escape while I scrambled for cover. And he’d almost made it too, but I managed to point the icy stream of water right at his bare back before he could get all the way through the doorway.
“Holy crap that’s cold!” he screamed, before turning back around, returning the favor with an identical water gun.
We were both soaked and out of water within a couple minutes, but we couldn’t stop laughing for several more. By the time we were able to compose ourselves the food had grown cold, but neither of us cared; it was worth it.
“So now that you two are done soaking everything in my house, do you think you can get your asses in gear and get to school on time?” Weed’s mom asked.
She was right, I really didn’t want to jump right back onto Principal Rooney’s shit list so I scarfed down a plate of food and headed back to my place to get showered and changed before rushing towards the school. Weed must have been taking his time because he pulled his chevette into the parking lot right behind me.
“Hey,” he said, as we both made our way towards the front doors. “About last night.”
“Yeah?” I asked, not really wanting to rehash the whole Finkenbine thing.
“You weren’t really serious about Shawna….”
“Oh, that. No, of course not.”
“Good, me neither. It all sounded so logical last night but this morning….”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. I guess I’m just going to have to wait and see.”
“Are you worried?”
“Maybe… kinda…not really. I’m just ready to get it over with.”
“Me too,” Weed said, “Then we can get back to what’s important.”
“And what would that be?”
“Finishing up Pamela so we can start on the Weed Wagon.”
I really shouldn’t have expected anything else from him.
“Good news,” Weed said as he came back from the house. “Finkenbine’s got the windshield. Why don’t you go grab it while I finish up the suspension.”
He tossed me the keys before anything he said could register. I just heard Finkenbine’s name and froze.
“You okay?” He asked as the keys bounced off my chest and hit the ground.
“Yeah. Sorry, I was just lost in my own thoughts.”
“Well snap out of it, and go get the windshield. We’re almost to the finish line now.”
“Yeah, definitely,” I replied, trying to come up with a reason, any reason, to not go to the junkyard as I grabbed the keys from the floor. I couldn’t come up with a thing.
“There should be a couple blankets in the back of the Weed wagon to wrap it up in,” he said, before climbing back under the car.
I would have given anything to not go to Finkenbine’s. Weed could have gone, though there wasn’t much I could have worked on without him. But even if I just could have convinced him to go with me, then I’d have an excuse not to do what I was afraid I was about to do.
The Junkyard wasn’t nearly far enough away, so I found myself pulling into the gravel drive before I was even close to being ready. Dumbass was laying on the porch but jumped off as soon as he saw me step out of the Weed Wagon.
“Hey boy,” I said, petting him a little too enthusiastically. He rolled over so I could rub his belly, so I did, using any excuse I had to put off seeing Finkenbine.
“You keep that up and he’ll expect you to come visit him every day,” Finkenbine hollered as he emerged from the wooden gate.
“There’s worse ways I could spend my time.”
“There’s also plenty of better ways.”
When he was a couple steps away from me, I finally looked up at him. There was a softness to Finkenbine’s face that I really hadn’t seen before. It was a little unsettling.
“I’ve got the windshield for you,” Finkenbine said, “but I’d like you to come back to the boat first.”
He turned and headed back towards the gate, leaving me no choice but to follow. The ominous feeling hit me again as we made our way down the tunnel of junk in silence. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know what, so I just continued to follow until we got within sight of the boat.
“You finished it?” I blurted out. The hull of the sailboat looked practically brand new, with several fresh coats of paint.
“Pretty much,” he replied, not stopping, but continuing up the rope ladder.
Somehow, in just a few days, Finkenbine had done the impossible, turning a dilapidated pile of lumber into a finished boat. I was a little surprised, but even more curious.
“Wow,” was all I could say as I reached the top of the ladder and saw that the hull wasn’t the only thing he’d finished. The deck looked practically brand new, and there were even a couple chairs for us to sit on this time, with a cooler between them. Finkenbine eased himself into one of the chairs and motioned me to the other, before grabbing two beers from the cooler. A beer might ease my nerves a little but it wouldn’t necessarily make it any easier to do what I had to.
“So you like it?” Finkenbine asked.
“Yeah. I don’t know much about boats but this one looks great now. I’m kind of surprised you were able to get it done so quickly,” I said, popping the top on the can and taking a big drink.
“I kind of had to, now didn’t I?”
“I promised Buck I’d finish her, and I had to keep my promise.”
“I get that, but why now? Why so quickly?”
“Because I had to keep my promise before you do what you’ve got to do.”
Finkenbine’s eyes cut right through me as he said those words and I froze.
“Don’t make me lose respect for you by trying to lie to me.”
I had no idea what he knew, or how he knew it, but he was right. I didn’t want to lie to him.
“Don’t worry, though, I’m not going to try to stop you. I’m ready. I wasn’t so sure about it the first time we met. I thought about killing you right then to buy myself a little more time, but I’m glad I didn’t. I’m ready now.”
“I’m glad you didn’t kill me too.”
“He would have just sent another Reaper anyways, and besides, I kind of like you. I’ve killed enough people in my lifetime, I really don’t want to have to kill another that I like.”
“You mean like Buck?”
“You figured that one out, huh?”
“I could tell there was more to the story.”
It was Finkenbine’s turn to take a big drink before he continued.
“That one was a double whammy. His gambling problem got out of control so he started skimming from the club. He wasn’t very good at it and everyone found out. The club took a vote; he had to pay the price.”
“But why you?”
“That’s the game Lucifer likes to play. He pushes you to the limit, trying to find your breaking point. If you can’t hold up your end of the deal, then he owns your ass.“
“But your best friend? That’s just cruel.”
“That’s putting it nicely. Buck’s was the hardest assignment for me. After Lucifer gave it to me, I told the club I’d take care of Buck. It still took all five days before I was able to do it. But at least I was able to let him go out quickly, doing what he loved.”
I saw the sadness in his eyes and imagined that mine looked about the same. I wanted to say something comforting, but I had nothing. I was just thankful that as much of a screw up as Weed was, I knew he hadn’t done anything that would allow Lucifer to make him my last assignment.
We sat there, finishing our beers in silence, but then I realized it might be my last chance to talk to someone who actually understood exactly what I was going through.
“So how long ago did you become a Reaper?” I asked.
“Way too long,” he replied. “But I also fulfilled my debt a long time ago too. I’ve just had to live with my choices ever since.”
“So Lucifer really upholds his end of the deal?”
Finkenbine laughed. “Yeah, he sticks to the deal, but that doesn’t mean you can trust him. He wants you stuck working for him. And even if you hold up your end, it won’t be over.”
“What do you mean?”
Finkenbine grabbed us two more beers from the cooler.
“Why’d you make your deal with him?” He asked.
I paused for a second, and then told him everything. It felt good to tell someone other than Weed.
“Okay,” he replied. “So what happens, a few years from now, if you’re in another accident. This time it’s not your fault, but your back is broken? You’ve made a deal with him once before, what’s another five assignments if it means you’ll be able to walk again? No medical bills, no years of rehab. Poof, you’re fixed.”
“I guess I don’t know what I’d do.”
“What if you didn’t take that deal but instead got hooked on painkillers, lost everything and ended up broke, addicted, and about to go to jail? Would you consider making a second deal, to turn your life around?”
“I don’t think that would happen to me…”
“Or what if, in rehab, you find the love of your life, only to have her get diagnosed with stage 4 cancer? One little deal could cure her sickness, end her suffering, and let you spend the rest of your years together…”
I saw the pain in his eyes intensify with each hypothetical situation, and then I realized, they weren’t hypothetical.
“All of these things happened to you?”
“And he showed up every time, offering another deal.”
“So what’d you do?”
“The only thing I could…I said no.”
“No? You said no to all of them?”
“Each, and every God-damn time.”
“How many people have you killed? Am I your first assignment?”
“No, you’re not the first,” I replied, “But I didn’t really kill them, I mean…”
“Don’t lie to yourself. You chose how they were going to die, and touched them with your hand of death.”
“Well yeah, but…”
“But nothing. You’re responsible for their deaths. That’s something you’re going to have to live with.”
He was right. I knew it, but I didn’t really want to think about it.
“What number am I?” He asked.
“You’re number 4.”
“Fourth out of five? I’m a little flattered. So only one more after me. Were the others difficult?”
“A little, but not like this.”
“DId you know them?”
“Not the first one.”
“But you knew the other two?”
“Yeah, a little.”
“And each assignment got a little harder?”
“That’s what he likes to do. The first one is random, easier to get you to do it. The next three get harder and harder, but not so hard that you quit before you reach the true test. The last one is meant to break you, to make you say no. If you say no to it, he’ll give you the chance to start over with five new assignments or to take the place of the last target. Your choice, but either way he owns your ass, which really is his goal.”
“Like he did with you? With Buck?”
“But my deal with Lucifer is only for killers, rapists and child molesters. I know Weed and he’s none of those things!”
“Everybody has secrets.”
“Weed and I don’t.”
“Did you tell him about your deal with Lucifer?”
“All of it?”
“So he knows you’re here now, and what you’ve got to do?”
“Well, not exactly…”
“As I said, everyone has secrets.”
“But I told him everything else, from the beginning. And I know he would have done the same, no matter what.”
“Even if it’s not Weed, it’ll be someone close to you. Someone you won’t want kill.”
“I don’t think so; I’m not really close to anyone. There’s Weed and Shawna and my mom, that’s about it. But none of them could have done anything that Lucifer could use against me.”
“You said your mom. What about you dad?”
“I’ve never known him. It’s always just been mom and me.”
“So you don’t know what happened to him?”
“I don’t have a clue.”
“So you also have no idea what sort of things he might have done.”
“And for all you know someone close to you could have killed him.”
“What? I..No. I know where you’re going with this, and my mom didn’t kill my dad.”
“Can you be sure?”
I opened my mouth to say yes, but I couldn’t get the word to come out. I really didn’t know what happened to my dad, and I never pushed the issue with my mom.
“All I’m saying is prepare yourself for the worst. Lucifer likes to play these games, and he’s damn good at it.”
“I’m not saying it’s possible, but on the off chance it is someone really close to me, like my mom, there’s got to be something I can do about it.”
“Lucifer likes to offer the same three options: choose their death, take their place, or start over with five new assignments. Those are always the only choices. And I guarantee that even if you start over, the last of those five assignments will be just as hard for you to finish as well.”
The words sunk in and I knew he was right, but that didn’t mean I had to like it. I felt my anger start to grow, and Finkenbine must have sensed it.
“Getting angry about it might make you feel a little better, but it won’t make it any easier. You need to think long and hard about what you’re going to do before you have to make the decision and you’ll only have five days to do so. And even then, you’ll still remain a reaper until your last assignment is dead.”
“That’s right, I’ve got five days. I don’t even have to do this yet.”
“Yes you do,” FInkenbine said. “I’m ready. But I might not be if I have any more time to think about it.”
There was a sadness in his eyes, but also a peace. As much as I didn’t want to even think about him dying, it would be wrong to put it off. He didn’t deserve to suffer just because I wasn’t ready.
“How do you want to go?”
“I know you’ve thought about it, probably a lot. You’ve had to have run through a hundred scenarios in your head. So how do you want to go?”
“Did you ask the others how they wanted to go?”
“No, just you. But it’s as much a favor to me as it is to you. You know what it’s like to be in my shoes. If I can give you the ending you want it’ll make it a little easier for me.”
He sat there for a minute, and then a smile crossed his lips.
“If I could choose any way, I’d want to go out on my bike. Not the trike; my ‘54 harley. But this leg won’t let that be an option.”
“Why not? If I picture it, that’s the way it happens, right?”
“Well yeah, but I’m not sure…”
“So if I picture you getting on it and riding off before meeting your end, it has to happen, right?”
“I mean, I guess…”
Before he had a chance to change his mind, I grabbed his arm. I was instantly flooded with visions of everything he’d done in his life, some of which almost made me pull away. I saw the things he did as a member of a biker gang; things I couldn’t have imagined him doing. I also saw the deaths he was responsible for because of his deal with lucifer. But then I saw the change in him. I got to see him break away from the gang he had considered his family. And I got to see him turn down Lucifer’s continued offers. The man condemned to die because of his actions was already dead, and the man who remained was ready to finally have some peace.
That definitely made it a little easier to do what I had to. I started by picturing exactly what he wanted. I saw him riding his Harley. I saw the smile on his face, and even felt the peace and happiness he felt being back on two wheels. It was clear as could be in my head, and I didn’t want it to end but I knew it had to. But it also had to be quick. I saw him twist the throttle, leaning the bike hard as he took the corner just a little too fast. He barely saw the semi before he crossed the center line and slammed into it. The image went black as I felt the same chilling energy pass through my hand that I had with all the others.
“It’s done?” He asked.
“Yeah,” I replied, trying to hide the catch in my throat.
And then something happened that I didn’t expect. He gave a little sigh, and smiled. The look of pure peace, and contentment on his face was something I hoped I could feel when my time was up.
“I should probably be going,” I said.
“I need just a few more minutes of your time,” Finkenbine said as he rose from his chair.
There was no way I could say no, so I did as he asked and followed him back down the rope ladder. And as he led me towards the garage beside his trailer, I noticed his limp was gone and he was moving a lot quicker than normal.
“Be careful with this,” Finkenbine said as he handed me a large, flat package. “Weed would be suspicious if you didn’t come back with the windshield.”
“Right,” I said, “I’d completely forgotten about that.”
“Just make sure you don’t break this one,” he replied, “There isn’t another one within 3 states from here.”
“I really can’t thank you enough…you know, for everything…”
“I’m the one who should be thanking you,” Finkenbine said. “I knew this day would come eventually. I just lucked out that you were assigned to send me on.”
The sadness flashed in his eyes, but was quickly replaced with a smile.
“Now you need to get back to Weed’s, he said as he pulled the cover off his ‘54 Harley. “Not that anyone would question an old man wrecking his bike, but I don’t want any suspicion directed towards you.”
“I appreciate that.”
There was a heaviness inside me as I walked back to the Weed Wagon. I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad, or just angry at the position I’d been put in; the position I put myself in. I could try to blame Lucifer all I wanted, but even though he orchestrated each of my assignments, I was the one truly responsible for everything that led up to them.
The ride back to Weed’s was both the shortest and longest I could remember. I fought with myself the entire way, but in the end, I knew what I had to do.
“That took you long enough,” Weed said, as he slid out from under Pamela.
I set the windshield on the workbench and tried to gather what strength I could.
“There’s a good reason that it took so long,” I said, not quite ready to make eye contact with him.
“Did you get another assignment?”
Weed just looked at me, and this time I knew I couldn’t look away. I had to own up to what I had done. He, and Finkenbine deserved that much.
“I actually already had the assignment.”
“Well why didn’t you say so? We could have waited to start on Pamela until you took care of it.”
“Because I didn’t know how, or even if, I was going to do it.”
Weed just stared at me for a minute, waiting for me to continue. Then he looked at the windshield, and then at me.
“No,” he said, shaking his head as if that would make it go away.
I didn’t know what to say.
He looked at the windshield again, then at me before dropping down into the driver side seat of my car as the tears started to slide down his face.
I’d known Weed for quite a long time, but that was the first time I saw him cry.
I really didn’t know what to do, or what to say, so I just stood there like an idiot until he spoke again.
“How could you?” He asked, wiping the tears from his cheeks.
“I know it won’t help,” I said, “but he was ready. He got to ride his ‘54 Harley one last time.”
Weed just stared at me like I was an alien, or worse yet, an enemy.
“You killed him and destroyed his Harley?”
The tears were rolling down my cheeks by then, but I didn’t care.
“It was how he wanted to go.”
Weed looked at me, then the look of anger turned to one of sadness.
“So you let him choose?”
“It was the least I could do,” I said, now trying to wipe the tears from my cheeks.
I then proceeded to tell Weed the whole story. I told him the truth about Finkenbine, about what he’d told me, and about everything he’d done. It was both harder, and more therapeutic than I could have imagined. By the time I was done, we were both out of tears and out of energy, so instead of getting any more work done on Pamela, we decided to head upstairs and light one up for Finkenbine.
Shawna was standing there in a light pink jacket, staring down at her hands. She didn’t jump when I opened the door, she just slowly looked up with a sadness in her eyes that shot right through me before she looked away. It was the same look she had all those years ago when she first moved to town. But it wasn’t just sadness I saw in her eyes. She looked at me like she was about to say something, then held back. I wanted to say something too but the words got stuck in my throat.
“Hey,” she said, still not looking directly at me.
“Hey. You okay?”
“I’m not sure.”
“You want to talk about it?”
How could I respond to that? She obviously wanted something, but if not to talk, what? I was never really good at reading people, especially girls, but with Shawna it was usually different. Not that night, though.
“You want to go for a walk?” I asked.
She stood there for a second before finally answering.
“Yeah, I guess.”
This wasn’t the Shawna I’d grown to know; this was the Shawna who first moved in all those years ago. But she wanted to walk, so we did, kind of. Heading down the street, neither of us talked, or even seemed to know where we were going. We just walked around and looked around, anywhere but at each other.
“How’d you know I was at the front door?” She asked after a couple blocks of silence.
“I didn’t. I was just heading out.”
“At this time of night?
“I needed a little fresh air.”
“You want to talk about it?”
“Do you want to talk about why you showed up at my house this late at night?”
“Fair enough,” she said, though she actually glanced my way as she said it.
“You know you can talk to me, right”
“Yes,” I said, stopping in the middle of a crosswalk. “You can talk to me about anything.”
She finally looked at me. Actually looked at me. And that was when I saw the bruise on her cheek.
“What the Hell? Did he do that?”
I felt my teeth and my fists clench.
“See,” she said, turning away. “This is exactly why I didn’t want to talk to you about it.”
Instantly I pictured all the ways I could end him without anyone even knowing it was me. Knowing that I could take care of Shawna’s problem with just a touch helped me relax a little, and for a moment I was almost thankful for my deal with Lucifer, if it worked on someone I wasn’t exactly assigned to.
“Look, I’m sorry,” I said, “But no one should be laying a hand on you. Especially him.”
“I know. And I won’t let it happen again, but…”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“I wouldn’t understand what?”
“Look,” I said, stopping and grabbing her arm. She flinched and spun around, with an anger in her eyes I don’t think I’d seen before.
I pulled my hand away.
“Woah! I just wanted to stop and actually talk for a second, like the friends I thought we were.”
She relaxed a little as the anger left her eyes.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to react like that.”
“No, you have nothing to be sorry about, I shouldn’t have grabbed you. I just want to help.”
“Thanks,” she said, “But I’ve got this.”
“I’m sure you do, but if you need, or want me to go with you….”
“Why not? He’s not stupid enough to do anything to you with someone else there, is he?”
“No, it’s just that…”
“It’s just that he saw me talking to you in the parking lot yesterday. He saw me hug you…”
“And that’s why he hit you? Because of me?”
She looked away and I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. The thought of him hitting her because of me just made me want to get my hands on him even more.
”It’s just going to be hard enough to break up with him, and I don’t need him blaming you.”
“I don’t care if he blames me.”
“But I do,” she said as she started walking again.
I followed her lead, though neither of us said anything as we made our way back to her place.
“So why’d you come to my house tonight, if you don’t want me to do anything about it?” I asked as we reached her door.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I just wanted to be with a friend.”
“Well I’ll always be there when you need to talk, or…whatever.”
“I know, and I really do appreciate that…”
I wanted to kiss her; to pull her close to me and tell her exactly how I felt. The moment seemed perfect for that, except for the last two assignments I had to complete for Lucifer. As much as I wanted to be with her, I knew I couldn’t drag her into that mess.
“Good,” I replied while stopping myself from doing anything else, “But I should really be getting back home.”
“You should,” she said, stepping closer to me. “Thanks for walking me home.”
Raising up on her tiptoes, she gently kissed my cheek, then turned and went inside, leaving me on the porch wondering if I made the right decision. I had the entire walk home to question if I should have kissed her first, but by the time I made it back to my bedroom I still had no idea if I did the right thing or not. I did, however, make a decision about Mr. Finkenbine. Lucifer was right; I really didn’t know Finkenbine. I had no reason to doubt that he’d done something to deserve his punishment. My deal with Lucifer specified that I would only have to deal with killers, rapists and child molesters. And if Finkenbine was one of those then he needed to go, no matter how hard it might be for me to do. Then I’d only have one last assignment until I’d be able to live my life like I was supposed to. And even if that didn’t mean Shawna and I ended up together, at least I’d be around for her to talk to and to protect her from guys like Matt.
Unfortunately, even with my mind made up, I couldn’t seem to get to sleep. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to complete my next assignment, but I was determined to, so there was nothing to think about. Still, my mind wouldn’t shut off. And it wasn’t just thoughts about Finkenbine or Shawna keeping me awake; I was also thinking about how Weed would react, and what my mom might think if she ever found out about what I was doing. And then, of course, I started questioning who my final assignment would be. Lucifer obviously enjoyed torturing me by making each assignment a little harder than the last. What could possibly be worse than having to send Finkenbine on?
Eventually my mind calmed enough that I fell into a fitful sleep, only to be awakened by the alarm way too early. I wasn’t anywhere close to being ready to get up, but I forced myself to anyway. A shower helped a little, but even then I was thinking about asking Weed for a little more of his go-fast juice. Instead of ingesting that poison and shortening my lifespan a little more, though, I decided to fix some coffee.
A couple scoops of sugar helped the coffee go down a little easier so I drank two and a half cups before grabbing my helmet and keys. On top of the coffee, the ride to school woke me up a little more so I was actually feeling half-way decent as I pulled into the parking lot. Until I saw Shawna climb out of that red corvette.
I rushed into a parking spot a little faster than I meant to, and had to break hard to get stopped in time. I had the bike shut off and my helmet on the handlebars in no time before heading straight across the parking lot. But as quick as I was, it still wasn’t quick enough; the Corvette was already gone and Shawna was nowhere to be seen.
“What was that about?” Weed asked as he came up behind me.
“What do you mean?” I asked, while still scanning the parking lot for any sign of Shawna.
“You pulled in, nearly wrecking in the process, then ignored me as I hollered out the window at you.”
“Sorry, I was just a little preoccupied.”
“I could tell. Was it the Corvette?”
I saw the judgment in his eyes.
“Yeah, kind of.”
“Dude, you’ve got to let it go.”
“It’s not about me and her.”
“So what’s it about? Is he your next assignment?”
“Seriously then, what happened?”
“Shawna came over last night.”
“Nothing happened between us, but she had a bruise on her face.”
“So why the Hell did she still have him drive her to school today?
“That’s what I want to know, but apparently I’m going to have to hunt her down to find out.”
“Okay, I get that you’re pissed. I am too. But you should only be pissed at that douchebag. Getting pissed at Shawna isn’t going to make things any better.”
“Maybe you’re right, but I’ve got to say something, I’ve got to do something.”
“So how does this whole grim reaper thing work? Can you use your voodoo on Matt?”
“I don’t know. I’ve only used it on the people I’ve been assigned.”
“So if the living Ken doll isn’t your next assignment, can you ask for him to be?”
Asking Lucifer to let me kill Matt? The thought made me smile.
“I really don’t know,” I said.
The talk of Lucifer and assignments made me think of my actual next assignment; Finkenbine. And remembering the reality of what I had to do really made me want to change the subject before Weed asked too many questions.
“It wouldn’t hurt to ask, would it?” Weed continued.
“I don’t think it works that way,” I replied. “He actually told me once that he “couldn’t have Reapers picking and choosing their assignments” so I doubt he’d go for it.”
“I can at least dream about it then,” Weed said with a smile.
The bell rang, letting us know that we had better get to class and for once I was actually grateful.
Though we had classes together the rest of the day, Weed didn’t mention Shawna, Matt or my next assignment again. We talked about nothingness like movies, or which cheerleaders were obviously stuffing their tops, but we avoided anything serious. There was nothing we could do about any of it while stuck in school, so there was no point dwelling on it. That seemed to be Weed’s thoughts, and after a while I felt the same way, at least until the last bell rang, releasing us from our temporary confinement.
“So you coming over to finish up Pamela?” Weed asked as he slid into the Weed Wagon.
“I’m not sure…”
“We had a deal,” Weed said. “Right after school. I’ve already got a full gas can waiting to be turned into exhaust fumes.”
“There’s just something I have to do…”
“It has nothing to do with Shawna, does it?”
“Good, then it can wait.”
“Pamela is waiting, and you really look like you could use a break from everything else.”
It was hard enough convincing myself to follow through with Finkenbine, Weed giving me an easy distraction made it impossible.
“You know what?” I said after thinking about it for a second, “you’re right; everything else can wait.”
“Good,” he replied, “then get your ass over to my place.”
With that, Weed pulled out of the parking lot before I could change my mind.
I took my time putting on my helmet and starting the bike, hoping to catch a glimpse of Shawna. I just wanted to make sure she wasn’t getting a ride home with that jackass, but I didn’t see her or that red vette before most of the cars had left the parking lot and I knew Weed would be close to sending out a search party for me. Reluctantly I kicked the bike into gear and took off, throwing one last look over my shoulder. Still seeing nothing, I gunned it as I headed towards Weed’s garage.
He was waiting in the driveway with his car door open looking like he was just about to come looking for me when I pulled up.
“I know that bike is a lot quicker than that,” he said, shutting his door and crossing his arms.
“Maybe I had to stop and save another old woman,” I replied, hanging the helmet on the handle bars.
“Is this one going to make it?” He asked.
“You know you deserve that.”
“So did you see her?”
“Who? An old woman?”
“No, dumbass, Shawna.”
“Not for lack of trying though, I’m sure.”
“I just wanted to make sure she wasn’t making another mistake.”
“It’s her mistake to make.”
“Easy for you to say.”
“Not really. I’ve been friends with her as long as you have.”
“Not true. I met her first, and introduced you two later that afternoon.”
“Okay, I’ve been friends with her exactly 2 and a half hours less than you. Just because I don’t have a hidden love for her, doesn’t mean I don’t care for her.”
“I know. And I know you’re just looking out for me too.”
“Good. But now that we’ve got all that touchy-feely stuff out of the way, let’s get our hands dirty.”
“And no mention of what’s-her-name. The only woman we focus on tonight is Pamela.”
Once again, getting my hands dirty really helped take my mind off all the other shit going on in my life. I needed that. While we were working on the car, I didn’t have to think about Shawna, and what I should or shouldn’t do there. And I didn’t have to think about my deal with Lucifer, and what I had to do there. It was an escape from reality, almost as good as getting stoned. Unfortunately my break from reality was shattered by the ringing of the phone, and Weed’s mother yelling.
“I wanted to be mad at you. I should be mad at you. But then you have to go and save Mrs. Reader from a fiery car crash so then I feel like a jerk for even thinking about being mad at you.”
My class was closer to the exits but Shawna had somehow made it out to my bike before I did. She was pacing as I made my way across the parking lot, and I thought about turning right around and going back into the school. But she knew where I lived, and where Weed lived, and those were really the only two places I really had to go besides the junkyard, but I couldn’t hide out there forever. One way or another Shawna would eventually catch up with me so I figured I might as well get it over with.
I knew she was going to end up yelling at me but I really didn’t expect her to yell at me for saving a teacher.
“So now how am I supposed to react?” She asked while continuing to pace between my bike and the Weed Wagon.
“She didn’t make it, if it makes you feel any better,” I replied, which finally got her to stop pacing.
“Mrs. Reader didn’t make it. My Rooney told me at lunch.”
It wasn’t a lie, but I couldn’t tell her the whole story, and I hated myself even more for that.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, rushing over and throwing her arms around me. “I’m sure it wasn’t your fault.”
“Why would you say that?” I asked, pulling away from her.
“I didn’t mean it like that; I’m just saying I’m sure you did everything you could to help her.”
The words stung a little more than they should have, given the truth of the matter, but I had to keep in mind that Shawna didn’t know exactly what I had done.
“Can we just change the subject,” I asked, “maybe get back to you yelling at me.”
“I wasn’t yelling,” she said, pulling away completely, “I was just explaining my position, and maybe venting a little, but I wasn’t yelling.”
“Well whatever it was, it was better than talking about Mrs. Reader.”
“I’m sorry. We don’t have to talk about it. I mean, I should probably let you go anyways.”
Weed had started to head our way but froze as he saw Shawna. He looked like he was about to head somewhere else when Shawna gave me another hug, then walked back towards the front of the building.
“So everything’s good?” Weed asked as he walked up to me.
“Yeah. Maybe? Probably, I think.”
“Good, then we need to get to work on Pamela.”
The thought of my car made me smile for a second but then I froze. What if Lucifer gave me another assignment while I was working on her. I really wasn’t sure I was ready for another one, not after Ms Reader. But not working on Pamela didn’t guarantee I wouldn’t hear from him either; he could just as easily come to me through my bedroom TV again. And even though I really didn’t like the idea of jumping right back into another assignment, the sooner I completed the last two jobs the sooner I’d be done for good. Then I’d never have to hear his voice again. As much as I loved the idea of getting Pamela fixed, I liked the idea of being done as a reaper even more, but there was nothing I could do to speed that up.
“Are you in?”
“Yeah. Let’s do it,” I said to Weed with a big smile on my face, almost challenging Lucifer to give me my next assignment.
Back at Weed’s garage, the work went pretty quickly but as the time passed I was actually becoming a little disappointed that I didn’t hear a peep from Lucifer. I even had a dozen excuses cooked up for Weed in case I needed to leave right away to take care of business, but I never needed them. By the time we called it a night, we’d made a lot more progress than I’d expected.
“You want to do the honors?” Weed asked, handing me the crescent wrench to tighten the battery terminals. I hesitated a second, my mind still not completely in the moment.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” he said, misinterpreting my hesitation, “she’s going to roar to life first try.”
I smiled, and grabbed the wrench, tightening both terminals a little more than necessary. It felt good to climb into the driver’s seat with the keys in my hand again.
“Okay,” Weed said, “let ‘er rip.”
I crossed my fingers, then slid the keys into the ignition and cranked it all the way, probably with a little too much enthusiasm. The engine turned over excitedly, which was a very good sign as Weed stood by the fender, staring at the motor with both thumbs up in the air. Fifteen seconds later he turned towards me, making a slicing motion across his neck as his way of telling me to knock it off.
“I’m not sure what’s going on,” he said. “The carbs will probably need a little adjusting but they should be close enough to get her to fire up. As much as I hate to do it, I think I might have to try a little starter fluid.”
Every gear head seemed to have different takes on using starter fluid. Most tried to avoid having to ever use it, but sometimes it was necessary. I wasn’t quite as averse to it as Weed so I nodded, giving him the go ahead.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered to Pamela as he sprayed a gentle dose directly into the carburetor.
As soon as he pulled his head out of the engine compartment I tried the ignition once again, and once again Pamela turned over right away, but this time she started to come alive for a second, before using up the little bit of starter fluid she had.
“Again,” I said, and Weed nodded, this time spraying a generous helping of starter fluid.
Pamela turned over and even began to fire up, but once again died as soon as she’d burned up all the starter fluid.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Weed said, leaning into the driver side window. She wants to run, and has plenty of air and spark but it’s like she’s starving for gas. I double checked the fuel pump and fuel filter. All the lines are clean so there shouldn’t be anything keeping the gas from reaching the carbs. Maybe I just need to pour some straight down the carbs to get everything fully primed.”
As soon as he grabbed the gas can I had another thought.
“What?” He asked, propping the five gallon can on the front fender.
“Is that a full can?” I asked.
“Yeah, just filled it up yesterday so we’d have plenty to get her running.”
“That’s great, and all, but don’t you think it might do us a little more good if the gas was in her gas tank.”
Weed looked at me, then at the gas can, and back to me before bursting out laughing. He continued laughing way too hard to even lift the can off the fender, so I grabbed it. It took a couple minutes to empty most of the can into Pamela’s tank which gave Weed plenty of time to get himself under control.
“One more time,” he said, spraying a little more fluid into the carburetor. This time, when I cranked the ignition, Pamela fired right up, purring like a kitten.
Weed was practically dancing in the poorly adjusted headlights, and you couldn’t have smacked the smile off my face with a 2×4, but unfortunately my baby wasn’t quite ready for me to drive her home. She still needed the new windshield, new suspension and new tires put on the new rims, but she was running better than ever and I could see the finish line, both with the car and with my assignments. Unfortunately the five gallons of gas wouldn’t last long if I kept running and revving the engine unnecessarily, so reluctantly I killed the ignition just before Weed could attempt what looked to be a backflip. He continued to stare at me while throwing his hands in the air, trying to tempt me to keep her running just a little longer.
“She sounds great, man, but we should save some celebrating for when she’s actually roadworthy again.”
Weed gave me a look that said he understood, but still didn’t like it.
“And it’s getting late,” I continued, probably more to keep myself from giving in then to convince him I was right. “We can start right back here tomorrow, and I’ll even bring more gas.”
“And what are you going to do?” Weed asked, grabbing the empty gas can from me, “bungee cord the gas can to the back of the bike?”
“It could work.”
“It could also be a disaster; I’ll get the gas, and you just show up here tomorrow as soon as school lets out. But you know I won’t sleep tonight knowing she’s this close.”
“You’ll pack a bowl with some “sleep-well” herb and you’ll be out like a baby in no time.”
“Okay, maybe you’re right.”
“You know I’m right. But I’ve got to get going.”
“Remember, straight here after school!”
“Yes, mom!” I replied. I’m pretty sure he had some smartass response but I couldn’t hear it over the sweet sound of the bike firing up.
I didn’t realize how tired I was until we stopped working and I sat down on that bike. It would have been a great night for a little night-riding, but I didn’t have the energy for that. Instead I went straight home and parked the bike in its usual spot before heading inside to get thoroughly cleaned up. Mom had left a plate in the microwave but I didn’t even feel like eating. I just wanted a shower and some sleep, but as I reached the top of the stairs I realized that once again someone had other ideas.
The television was glowing so I figured it was Lucifer but it wasn’t his face like last time. The image on the screen was the old indian head test pattern, but instead of the indian head, it was Lucifer’s sitting above the number 3.
“Three down,” his voice boomed from the speakers as his head turned towards me, “only two to go.”
As he said those words, the number 3 changed to the number 2.
“I thought you’d be happy…”
“Don’t get me wrong,” I said, “I can’t wait to be done with this, but tonight is really not the night.”
“You really don’t listen, do you. You can do it whenever and however you want.”
“I know, I know; it’s just that I really want some sleep and thinking about killing someone kind of interferes with that.”
“If it makes it any easier we can do this in the morning, but you don’t want to waste too much time; tomorrow might be the perfect opportunity to complete your next assignment.”
I opened my mouth, ready to tell him we’d do it in the morning, then I realized that knowing I had an assignment and not knowing who it was would probably be worse than knowing. I’d toss and turn all night long, trying to figure out who it could possibly be. It was definitely a catch 22, but I think that was exactly what he wanted.
“Fine,” I said, stripping off my filthy shirt, getting ready for a nice hot shower. Knowing him, I was going to need it.
“I’m not so sure I like your attitude,” he said.
“There was nothing in our deal about my attitude.”
“Good point. But you might want to at least stop prancing around the room and sit down for this one. I have a feeling it won’t be quite as easy as the others.”
Instantly I stopped. I didn’t mean to stop, and had I thought about it, I would have just kept walking to keep from giving him the pleasure, but my mind froze and my body followed suit.
“As easy as the others?” I yelled at the television “There was nothing easy about the others.”
“I didn’t mean to belittle your work so far,” he said. “I’m actually quite proud of what you’ve managed to do. A lot of others haven’t had the stomach for the assignments like you’ve completed. I just want you to be prepared in case this one is a little more difficult.”
I could feel my face getting red as my frustration and anger grew. I took a deep breath and tried to control my tongue.
“Just tell me who it is,” I said through clenched teeth.
“It might be best just to show you.”
The indian head test pattern with Lucifer’s head disappeared and was replaced with a face I recognized all too well.
“You can’t be serious.”
“What? You didn’t think he was completely innocent, did you?”
“Innocent? No. But I didn’t really think that Finkenbine had done anything that fit into our agreement.”
“Why? Because he gave you a good price on some car parts? Or maybe it was that heartfelt conversation the two of you had over a couple beers? There’s really a lot that you don’t know about him.”
“Fine, I get that, but now he’s just an old man running a junk yard. It’s not like he’s out there harming anyone.”
“It’s not always about what they’re doing now, or even what they might do in the future. Ms. Reader was proof of that, and you finished that assignment fine.”
The words stung more than they should have, probably because everything he said was true.
“Our deal was that I select 5 killers, rapists or child molesters and you decide when and how they will pass on to face the consequences of their actions.”
I sat down on the edge of my bed, contemplating my options.
“Can’t you just assign another reaper to him?”
“I’m afraid not. We can’t have the reapers picking and choosing what assignments they want to complete. Either you do this or our deal is off.”
So that was his game; torture me by giving me exceptionally harder assignments, hoping to get me to break our deal.
“I’m going to need a little time.”
“I’m a man of my word. You’ve got 5 days to seal his fate; otherwise the deal is off.”
The television went black, even as those words continued to hang in the air. For a time, I forgot about everything else, even the hot shower I’d looked forward to. I just continued to sit on the edge of the bed, in an attempt to figure out what I was going to do. I wanted to talk to someone, but that really wasn’t an option. The only one who knew anything about what was going on was Weed, but what would I say to him? Sorry, I’ve got to kill your friend? Weed would never forgive me. Or worse, he would blame himself for taking me out to Finkenbine’s in the first place. I couldn’t live with myself if he had to deal with the consequences of my actions.
My mind was pretty much made up to tell Lucifer to shove it but then my thoughts went to Shawna. Even if things weren’t going the best between us, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to her. And my mom? If I broke the deal and had to accept my fate, it would crush her. I didn’t even want to begin to imagine what it would do to her.
Round and round my mind went, bouncing from one choice to the other without the slightest chance of making a decision. I knew there was no way I was going to get any sleep so I headed down stairs. The keys to the bike were still in my pocket, and a night time ride would help take my mind off the decision I had to make, but it would only delay the inevitable. Instead of running from my decision I had to face it I decided to take a walk to give myself plenty of time to think. So instead of heading towards the garage at the back of the house, I went to the front door, but I was not prepared for what I saw as I opened it.