She’s still hunched over, writing.
“So if I told Our Lady of the Junk that I think she’s beautiful, that would be okay? She wouldn’t come after me with a rusty old fender or a piece of farm machinery?”
She looks up between her strands of curl. “No. She wouldn’t come after you with a rusty fender.”
“Good. That’s good,” I say.
She looks at me for another second, then goes back to writing. She has on her glasses—they’re fake with no prescription lenses. She wears them at the PEC Center now because she says people treat her better when she wears them. She told me this on Saturday. I didn’t believe her at first, but now she shows me the chart she’s been making.
“See?” she says, flipping open her little book. “On average, I get treated like shit thirty-one percent more often when I don’t wear these.”
“Is that what you do in your book?” I ask.
She puts it back in her pocket. “Yeah. And other stuff.”
I leave lunch early because I want to see Fletcher on his own to ask him if he thinks I can get out of the SPED room and try to work on getting to college. I don’t tell Hannah this. I tell Hannah I have to go to the bathroom.
“I’m going to hit the bathroom,” I say.
“Don’t hit it too hard,” she says, still scribbling.
Deirdre is in Fletcher’s room eating lunch by herself. She eats slowly and slurps soup through a straw from a thermos. We try some small talk, but she keeps talking about TV, and I keep telling her I don’t watch TV.
“What’s your f**kin’ problem, anyway?” she asks after a minutes-long bout of silence.
“Why are you in here?” she asks. “You seem smart.”
“It’s a long story,” I say.
“I’ve got all day,” she says. “Nowhere to go.” She flails her arms around her wheelchair as if to say: See? Nowhere to go.
“I don’t know. I’m embarrassed. By—you know.”
She looks at me, head cocked in that Deirdre way, a little bit of her food stuck to her lips while she tries to chew faster so she can say something. She asks, “What do you have to be embarrassed about?”
“Dude,” I say. But that’s all I say. She gives me a look like she might cry… or kill me. I don’t know which.
“I have to shit in my pants, Gerald. Do you know that? I have to wear f**kin’ diapers. They call them briefs to make it sound better, but shitting in your pants is shitting in your pants.”
“Sorry, Deirdre. I didn’t mean to piss you off,” I say.
“You didn’t piss me off. You just made me aware of how embarrassed I should be if you’re embarrassed.”
It takes me a minute to figure out what this means. While I’m figuring it out, Deirdre says, “You know what you look like to me? You look like a kid who gets off on disappointment.” She adds, “That’s what you’re embarrassed about.”
I laugh through my nose. Not a ha-ha laugh. More like a wow-she-totally-called-that laugh. “Shit.”
“You’re all jacked up on being the world’s biggest loser when really you could be kicking life’s ass. What a f**kin’ waste.”
I think about kicking life’s ass. I realize I have no idea where to start.
“Shit, you could be a TV star,” she says.
I laugh again. A ha-ha laugh.
“Seriously. You’ve already got experience. You already have a name and people know you. You’re f**kin’ famous.”
“I’m famous for shitting in my mom’s shoes and for punching someone on TV. That’s not going to get me a job in TV,” I say.
She rolls her eyes. “You obviously don’t watch enough TV.”
Fletcher arrives right when the bell rings, so I can’t talk to him about anything, but talking to Deirdre helped me more than I thought it would. I can always talk to Fletcher tomorrow.
When we get in the car after school, Hannah asks, “Can we take the long way to work?”
The answer is yes. It always will be. Yes. Yes. Yes. I nod, and then I reach over to the glove compartment to get the card and CD and she stops me.
“Not yet,” she says. “After work, okay?”
“But I want to hear the songs that remind the junkyard girl of Gerald.”
“Dude, it’s the junkman’s daughter,” she says. Then she opens the glove compartment and hands me the CD. “Just wait on the card. It’s a lot of reading.”
I can see, though, that she’s noticed the open envelope.
WORK IS CRAZY busy.
Hannah moved to register #6 and Beth runs for us because she keeps telling us that we’re “fun,” which means that no matter how many hungry hockey fans are lined up in front of us, and no matter how many trays of fries she has to fetch from the hot table for us, we still make jokes and act goofy sometimes. Beth likes being goofy, too. I want to ask her what it’s like to skinny-dip.
Close to closing time this guy comes to #6 with his girlfriend and asks Hannah for two beers. Hannah asks for his ID and he laughs as he gets it out of his wallet.
“I’d like to see your ID,” he says to her. The hairs stand up on my neck when he says this. His tone is all wrong. I step away from my cash register and toward Hannah’s. I become ready for confrontation. I am Gerald and I was born ready to kick your ass.
He gives the ID to Hannah. Beth moves over to tap the beers. “You need help doing the math, kiddo?” he says.
Hannah looks up over her glasses and says, “So you’re twenty-two. Congratulations.”
“They say men get better looking with age,” the guy says.
Beth finishes tapping the beer and looks at the guy’s girlfriend, who’s staring into space like a bunny. “Really? I think women do, too.”
“So what’s your excuse?” he says.
As Beth hands him the beers I hope she spills one on him. Or drops them. Or throws them in his face. Hannah is just processing it. I can see her frown processing it.
“Time isn’t going to do shit for you, ass**le,” I say. See? I’m good at this. I have a switch and you can switch me on.
He puffs up and says, “What’d you say to me, kid?”
“I said,” I say. Then I raise my voice so the veins in my neck pop. “Time isn’t going to do shit for your ugly ass**le of a face, you big f**king tool.” I smile. “Did you hear me that time?”