Regan was the type of pretty that wins pageants, but she didn’t know that. It’s hard to guess the things Regan knew for certain. Maybe she knew how many times a butterfly could flap its wings in a day. Maybe she knew how to order a Coke in perfect Russian. Maybe she knew the time of birth of every US President. Maybe she knew none of these things, but her eyes could sometimes make one think she did. Raindrops slid down her umbrella. In the blinking glow of the gas station’s fluorescent light they looked very much like scales.
John thought she was pretty straight away. He stood as close as to her as possible without her noticing and tried to smell her hair. Pretty girls always had the best smelling hair, but Regan smelled like the last bonfire of summer, a thing one throws everything into just because they can, just because they like to watch things burn. John was ashamed of his ratty old hoodie and uniform. He wished he had gone home and taken a shower after work, but if he had done that he wouldn’t have been behind her in line.
He was glad there was an elderly woman ahead of them. This gave him more time to be near Regan, to study her movements, the shape of her legs in those tight leggings.
Out of total boredom and an inability to stand still for more than five minutes, Regan turned to John. “Look at my friend.” She showed him her phone.
“My friend. Whenever she poses for a Facebook picture she sticks out her chest.” Regan shrugged. “You know, Facebook tits.”
“Yeah,” said John trying to act nonchalant, trying to pretend like one, he had a trove of pretty girl friends on Facebook, and two, pretty girls always talked to him. In reality, his Facebook clan was devised of approximately thirty men all of whom played World of Warcraft. He spent his Saturday night’s dis-connecting his computer so he could reconnect it for a LAN party. He imag-ined she spent her Saturday nights having pillow fights with other hot girls. Everyone knew hot girls traveled in packs. Great. Now he had a semi-hard-on that he had to try and hide.
The woman ahead finally finished up and it was Regan’s turn. “Have you seen any of these movies?” She called over her shoulder to John.
“No, but I heard Corporate Killerz is good,” John paused and pressed his palms into each other, a nervous habit he couldn’t break, “I want to rent it.”
“Corporate Killerz it is.” Regan selected the movie and waited for it to pop out of the machine.
“What?” John’s voice cracked. “I just said I was going to rent that.”
“Whoa. Are you gonna cry over this?”
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “It’s not the movie. Look, I just had a bad day.”
“And you think I haven’t?”
John stared. He did not believe beautiful people had bad days. Bad days were for those with pimples, and cowlicks, and hangnails, cold sores, and dark circles under their eyes, and the occasional limp, not for those with long eyelashes and perky breasts.
“All right,” said Regan. “Tell me about your bad day and I’ll tell you about mine. Whoever had the worst day wins the movie.”
“Fine,” said John. “I work in fast food and they make me say, ‘Welcome to the king’s castle’ to everyone that comes through the drive-thru.”
“That’s not so bad,” started Regan. “I’m in driver’s ed with my ex-boy-friend’s new girlfriend.”
“Not so bad? The greeting is pompous. The only throne in the burger joint is the porcelain one in the restroom. The paper crowns aren’t fooling anyone.”
“Well, we ride around running errands for our instructor the whole time. He makes us listen to the classic rock station. Most days he closes his eyes and hums with the music like he is in his basement or some happy place that reminds him of being sixteen again. We aren’t allowed to speak when Journey comes on.”
“Sounds like your driver’s ed teacher is having a bad day, not you. When I was at work, a woman came through the drive-thru and yelled, ‘This doesn’t look like the picture!’ Then whammy! She whipped her burger at me and it hit me in the chest.”
“Well, my ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend puts on nail polish in the car and it gives me a migraine.”
“Phhht. Your nails are painted.”
“In a well-ventilated area.”
“The burger thing is the second thing that happened to me this week. On Tuesday, a girl with a lot of fake hair whipped her soda at me because it wasn’t diet.”
“Well, today our driver’s ed instructor made us go to his house and he was taking like a really long time and so I, you know, I beeped the horn like maybe twice, and he came out of his house and went total ape shit on me. He started going on and on about how he has a new baby, blah, blah, blah, and I woke it up, blah, blah, blah, all in front of my ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend.”
“Were they long beeps?”
“They were on the longer side.”
“My day was worse.”
“Yes-uh. I was assaulted with a burger.”
“Well, today I was in a school zone and the sign read twenty miles per hour, so you know, I slammed on the brakes because I was going like forty, and the instructor totally reamed me out, again, because it was after school zone hours or something, and when I looked in the rearview mirror my ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend was laughing. And the car behind me beeped at me, which in my opinion, is the equivalent of the middle finger.”
“Okay,” John said throwing up his hands. “You win. I’m tired of standing in this rain.”
Regan was not so self-absorbed that she didn’t notice the sad look on John’s face. “Why don’t we watch the movie together?”
“Can we go to your house? My mom is bumping uglies with the volleyball coach, so I don’t want to go home.”
John pedaled his bike slowly as Regan walked alongside of him. She held the umbrella high so they could both be under it. They introduced themselves. Regan went to the private high school and John the public. That’s why they hadn’t met before, even though they lived about a mile apart. Regan pulled a Coke out of her hoodie pocket and chugged it as they walked.
When they made it to John’s place, he chained his bike to a half dead pine tree. Regan crushed her can with one hand, burped, and tossed it over her shoulder. It bounced off the sidewalk and came to a halt next to the curb.
“Aren’t you going to recycle that?”
“That’s what they pay prisoners to do, pick up litter on the side of the street.”
John led Regan around the back of the building to a ground unit. A hammock and a grill sat on the patio. John sprinted to the patio door and motioned for Regan to follow.
“Why are you running?”
“There’s a wasp nest in the grill. They dive bomb you if you don’t run past.”
“I can fix that.” Regan strolled up to the grill and turned it on full blast.
“Somewhere a Buddhist is crying.”
“Yup.” She followed John inside.
He dreaded taking her into his room. It was a mess of comic books, dirty laundry, and old plates with hard food bits stuck to them. Posters of Halo, Star Wars, and Splinter Cell covered the walls like wallpaper. The top drawer of the dresser was open. Medicine bottles littered the nightstand. He hurried to make the bed so they would have a place to sit. Regan pulled the door closed behind her.
He freaked out. He wasn’t sure if she closed the door out of habit or if it meant something more. And while his mom was at work, and not due to re-turn home until late, he was sure she made a rule about keeping the door open when a girl came over. Only a girl had never been in his room, so he couldn’t be certain.
Regan picked up a bottle and tilted it on the side.
“What’s this for?”
“I like to sit on the bed and throw them into my sock drawer.
“Let me try.” She tried three times, but missed. The pills rolled under the dresser.
“You have to have to tilt your hand. Flick it.” John flicked the pill and it sailed into the drawer.
“That’s not fair,” Regan’s lip jutted out. “What’s this really for?”
“Really? I wouldn’t have guessed.” Regan slid a few inches away from John and uncomfortably tucked a piece of hair behind her ear.
“It’s not contagious.”
“Too bad. That would be the perfect excuse to do all sorts of crazy things and then just blame it on being sick.”
“Sometimes I milk it.”
“For what? Wait. I have a playlist for this on my iPod.” Regan pulled an iPod out of the front pocket of her sweatshirt.
“You’re like a marsupial.”
She gave him one ear bud and placed the other in her ear. Ozzy Osborne’s “Crazy Train” blasted on.
“Classic rock?” John raised an eyebrow.
“It’s rubbing off on me.”
“I don’t really do crazy stuff on purpose. Mostly I just use it to get out of doing homework or my chores. Sometimes I use it to call into work. You should see the look on people’s faces when you tell them that you’re going nuts.”
“Does it look like this?” Regan twisted up her face and squinted her eyes.
“You look Chinese.”
John smiled. “Remember when you were younger and you used to play tag and a tree or something would be glue and you would make a chain of hands to save someone?”
“I miss those days.”
“No tag backs.”
“I triple dog dare you to tell me something true.”
“I like the smell of my own farts.”
John didn’t know how to respond to that. It was more embarrassing than mentioning he was a person with schizophrenia. “This is a marvelously delight-ful playlist on your iPod, darling.”
“Why thank you, kind sir. Can you open the window? I want to hear the rain.”
“I thought you were going to say you had a fart brewing.” He got up and stared out the window for a moment, just to watch the silver tracks of the drops before he slid it open. Rain trickled in. He didn’t care if it soaked his bed and ruined the carpet.
When he turned around, she was crumpled on the bed in a small ball. He got in next to her. She gave him the other ear bud. He let the side of his pinky touch the inside of her wrist. It was the first time he touched someone in days. The last time was when he gave change to a biker; the tips of his fingers dragged over the man’s palm. But that touch was not the same. They lay like this, with other people’s voices in their heads for the better part of two hours. The rain came in stops and starts. Regan was first to speak.
“My ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend is a potato with legs. She could never wear jorts like I do.”
“What are jorts?”
Regan spoke staring up at the ceiling. “Jean shorts.” She took her ear bud back and wrapped up her iPod. “I have to go home.”
“I can walk you.”
“I can walk you to the door then.”
“No.” Regan shook her head, the most complex way of saying goodbye.
She slid out the door. John went to the window. A smoked and water-logged wasp lay on the sill. John could not get over the wings, paper thin. Re-gan moved closer to the street. He stared at her. Desperately willed her to look back. When she didn’t, he hung himself out the window and yelled at the top of his lungs, “If I hadn’t had this very bad day, I would have never met you.”
She turned. “Don’t forget to return the movie.”
This was originally published in Spring 2018 edition of The Helix.