It took Stone only thirty seconds to persuade Becca to come with him for a beer at The Green Turtle. The way his grandmother had described Becca’s calm determination when she left with her duffle bag and pillow, he had thought that she’d passed the point of truly caring about him. Usually, when she claimed he’d done something wrong, her paranoid anger spilled out for at least an hour, followed by a great makeup session as one passion morphed into another. But today she’d come without a shouting match and without his begging, a response that confused him.
Becca maneuvered into his KIA, using the driver’s side because of the banged-up door on the passenger side from an accident that had provided an insurance windfall last summer. As she wiggled across the console, he studied her peach-like ass, the first thing he had noticed when he’d seen her at a party in jeans that stoked his imagination.
“You go ahead and pick the music,” he said. He could tolerate a few minutes of Beyoncé if it put Becca in the right frame of mind, even with all the nonstop bellowing about that woman stuff.
“Not in the mood,” she replied, then turned her head to stare out the passenger window as if something important flickered in the silent darkness. No sense reaching for her thigh (too soon for that) or apologizing when he couldn’t look her in the eyes and send unspoken love-texts.
The Green Turtle Sports Bar was packed for a Wednesday night, filled with boisterous red-shirted fans, not the regulars who felt more comfortable here than home alone. In all the drama about forgetting to pick up Becca at work and her abrupt departure from their room at his grandmother Marguerite’s, he’d given no thought to Game Six of the NHL Eastern Conference hockey finals. He felt strange wearing a logo shirt from a long defunct band amidst a sea of red, a betrayal of his Caps, who never before in his twenty years had made it this far in post-season. He’d have to tell Becca that, after they were settled in the booth. Forgetting about such a make-or-break game because of her would show how much she meant to him.
“So I’m not coming back. Just wanted to put that up front before we talk.” Becca slid into the booth, taking the outside seat and throwing her hoodie next to her, which forced Stone to sit on the other side, his back to the TV, and stare at her cold gray eyes.
He flashed the smile that had made her melt the first time they’d talked senior year, a smile he knew would make her take back her crazy declaration.
“I know, Beck. You’re angry. You’ve got every right to be.” He dialed back his smile and let his eyes take over. “I just want to chill with you, leave us as old friends, not enemies. It’s too many years to throw away.”
An ear-shattering cheer went off near the bar, and Stone resisted turning to see who had scored and how, knowing that a glance over his shoulder would doom the night.
“It’s over, Stone. I’ve got to get somewhere in my life, not stay stuck in Stone’s world.”
“Shit. It’s that Enrique. That’s what this is all about. He probably gave you a ride home from work, and you knew you had someone else to listen to your sad stories about your mother. ‘My mother said I stole from her. My mother threw me out. My mother never saw who I am.’ Enrique is a new audience for your old stories.” Stone paused long enough to soak in the cheering in the bar that hadn’t yet subsided, a long overdue release of playoff fever that stirred something in Stone almost like sex.
“Go ahead. If you think it’s about Enrique, watch the replay,” she said flatly.
Taking that as permission, he turned briefly toward the big screen while Becca slid her lip gloss from her pocket and applied it thickly over her lips three times. When he turned back, his face flushed from the goal, the sight of her shimmering lips evaporated his lie that all he wanted was friendship.
Enrique or no Enrique, he stuck out his foot and rubbed his ankle up and down her leg, singing sweetly, “Beck, Beck, come back to me. No one else gonna love you girl, half as much as me.” Even though her leg retracted at the touch of his ankle, Becca wasn’t stopping his singing, which he knew soothed all the emotional junk tossing around inside her.
As her face relaxed, he remembered he needed her in more ways than he could ever say aloud, more ways than just the sex. Even things that bugged the shit out of him, like her demands that he work, not just hang around his grandmother’s house, he needed. It was good to get paid, good to have achieved something tangible during the day, even if lugging sod and digging holes in packed clay soil exhausted him. Becca had made that happen for him.
The server, a tall skinny girl, with tiny breasts pressing against her Caps shirt, had suddenly appeared and brushed her hand across his back.
“Hey, Stone. Haven’t seen you for ages. Want your regular?”
He nodded as she flipped her red-streaked hair behind her ear and recorded the order on her tablet, her perfume reminding him of the one time he’d gone home with her.
“And you?” She looked toward Becca, belatedly noticing that there were two people at the table.
“Just a Coke.”
“Hey, Lulu,” he called out to the server who had already moved on to the next table. “Give me an extra-large side of onion rings. You da best, girl!” He was starved after a full day sodding and the slight buzz from the beers he’d shared with the guys, and Marguerite hadn’t even kept leftovers for him, as if she’d been personally insulted by her grandson’s forgetfulness toward Becca.
“No problem, Stone. Gotta keep a hungry man satisfied.”
Becca was fiddling with her cell phone, bending over so far that all Stone could see was the scrunchie containing her fluffy hair, a requirement by her drugstore manager, who frowned upon stray hairs on cough medicine and toothpaste. He started singing again, this time in a deep, slow moan, to show her how much she really meant to him. But when she looked up from her cell, her lips had straightened into a line rebuking him for something he couldn’t quite figure out.
“So this Enrique dude, you and he are a thing now?” He could imagine Enrique coming on strong in the car, putting his arms around Becca when she sobbed about Stone forgetting her at work and poured out all the old stuff about her mother as if she’d never ever told anyone else in the whole world.
“This isn’t about Enrique. I’m too busy at school and work to waste time crying over you and wondering if you will or won’t be where you promised to be or losing sleep because you said something stupid. You just want to make it about Enrique, so you feel entitled to watch the Caps replay or flirt with the server.”
“If it’s not Enrique, I don’t get it. Three years, Beck, you don’t throw away three years of great sex. And no one else can get me out of a funk like you. “
“That’s what I mean. Everything’s about you.”
Another loud roar reminded him that at least things were going well with the Caps— considerably better than things with Becca. “Beck, I’m sorry about forgetting to pick you up. I got paid and had to get my check cashed to pay back some guys. And then one thing led to another and my cell was dead.”
“I’ve heard the story before. Over and over.” She looked like she wanted to say more, then stopped and licked her lips, lingering an extra second on the top lip, pulling her tongue back into her mouth, rubbing her lips together, drawing him toward her as he remembered her fruity taste, her ripe sweetness after a day at the drugstore. He lurched to the other side of the table, forcing her body onto her hoodie, crushing her into the end of the booth, so tight into her that he shared her deepening breaths.
“Get away,” she growled, pushing her hand against his chest, but he could tell she was feeling his love because she didn’t push too hard.
“You want me. You know you want me,” he whispered as grabbed her hand and pressed his lips onto her neck. As drunk with Becca as he’d ever been, he sucked her into him—her smartness, her practicality, her toughness mixed with her sweetness—everything she was that he wasn’t.
She stopped pushing, letting him do what he wanted until Lulu said, “Hate to interrupt, but here’s your drinks.” The server stared at Becca’s red cheeks and the purpling bruise on her neck where Stone had devoured her, then left.
He wanted to say how much he loved her, but instead, he chugged his beer and let out a huge belch, then laughed when she lifted her eyes. When she didn’t react, he reached up and removed her scrunchie and her hair tumbled across her face, spirals of confusing curls, twisting one upon the other, his fingers exploring every curl as she drew deep on her straw until a loud gurgle said she’d hit bottom. He laughed again, pulling her toward him, yanking the straw from her amazing lips, pushing his against hers, feeling an unfamiliar passivity but pushing all the same.
“We’re in a restaurant, not at home,” she said when he came up for air. “Enough.”
“What the hell, Beck! What do you want? I’ll do anything you want. You da best, girl.”
“I thought that title belongs to Lulu.”
“But I mean it with you. There’s no one I love like you. Give me another chance. What do I gotta do?”
“Hmmm. Let me think. Oh, I know. You can start by paying me back the $300 you owe me.”
“I say love, you say money?” he said. “Anyways, I don’t owe you that much. I just borrowed once or twice to make my car payment.”
She fished in her pocket, pulled out a wrinkled piece of lined paper, and began to read. “October 1—$50 for car payment. November 5—$50 for credit card bill. December 22—$100 for Christmas gifts. February—$40 for gas. March—$60 for an emergency supply of weed. For a grand total of $300. And that’s only the loans I bothered to write down.”
“I know I paid you back for the early ones.”
“Are you kidding? You hardly ever repay me for anything, not even for a Big Mac. And now I’m late on back rent to your grandmother, I’ve got to get tuition together for my summer course and books, and I’m sitting on $300 of your unpaid loans. So, yes, that’s where you can begin—by paying me back.”
“I’d give it to you if I had it, but I don’t.”
“Liar. You just cashed your check today. Remember? That’s why you forgot about me and my aching feet.”
His wallet, swollen with money, pressed against him, less than the $300 she was demanding, but all that he had after forty hours of hard labor minus the money he’d given to the guys for beer. “Yeah, you’re right. Technically, I’ve got money, but it’s all owed for rent and my car payment.” Not really true, but close enough that it wasn’t an outright lie. Besides his sore muscles would be a total waste if he went back to Marguerite’s with an empty wallet. Still, an empty wallet was better than an empty bed.
“Let me see what you’ve got.”
“Beck, let a man have some pride.”
“It’s your choice. If you want a chance with me, I need to see the money.”
He counted it out, stacking it neatly on the table, feeling each lift of the shovel as he recited: “20, 40, 60, 80…” and stopping finally with “263 dollars, the total of my money, and most of it isn’t even mine.” The loud groan behind him signaled an unfortunate turn in the Caps game, maybe even disaster, as Becca walked her fingers toward the pile of money on the sticky table, until she covered the stack with her hand, then slid the stack toward herself with an unexpected sadness.
“All of it?” he asked. “Not even $30 for the burger, drinks, and tip? I can’t stiff Lulu.”
She plucked a twenty and a ten from the stash and folded the money into Stone’s hand, her hand lingering atop his, signaling what? He had stopped reading her right tonight, that much he knew. He leaned over and kissed her, this time on the cheek, wondering what this half-assed kiss would cost him. She stuffed the money under her shirt, fumbling around to wedge the money into her bra.
“You think I’m going to steal it?”
The burger had miraculously appeared, and he noticed that the kitchen had been stingy with the onion rings. He bit into the burger, letting the juice dribble down his chin. Becca reached for a napkin and dabbed his face, then dangled an onion ring above his mouth in a high schoolish game, pulling it away when he dove for it, before finally feeding it to him. Then another and another, her laughter building as he consumed each offering.
“So you’re coming back,” he said. “I’m glad.”
She grazed her hand across his cheek. “I can’t,” she said with a firmness that contradicted her touch.
Her crazy push and pull, like the ebb and flow of the hockey game behind him, confused him, depressed him, excited him, angered him. She had his apologies and his love and his money. What more could she want? Besides, who the hell needed her when Lulu would go home with him in a minute? But the thought of the skinny, predictable substitute made him feel the depressing emptiness without Becca.
“One more chance, babe. Did you see how I paid you back without even a fight? Look how much I’ve changed. And it’s all because of you.”
But she was waving to a guy at the door. Was that short guy Enrique from the drugstore? Who cared? If she was satisfied with that dork, let her go. Shit, the dork was smiling and walking toward Becca with a confidence that said he was expected.
A deafening roar exploded around him, another goal for the Caps, leading them to more post-season triumph, maybe even to the Stanley Cup. Had he missed a pivotal power play? He’d waited for this his whole life. Stone grabbed his burger and headed to the bar to see whether it was Ovi or Backstrom or Oshie who had scored, trying hard not to think about Becca and the asshole who was sliding his arm around her waist, forcing himself to forget about tomorrow, filling himself with orgasmic expectations of Game Seven.
© Carol Westreich Solomon
Carol Westreich Solomon has returned to her first love–creative writing–after exploring literature and writing with high school students in Montgomery County. As the lead consultant of Carol Solomon & Associates, she previously taught writing to adults in corporations and government agencies. Her work includes the young adult novel Imagining Katherine (2016 Notable Book, Association of Jewish Libraries) and short works in Lilith, Little Patuxent Review, Persimmon Tree, Bethesda Magazine, Jewish Fiction.Net, Montgomery Writes, Poetica, The Washington Post. Carol recently completed a fellowship at the Bethesda Writers Center.