“Charlie, there’s someone at the door for you.”
I groggily rub at my eyes as I sit up in my bed. It’s got to be bumfuck early in the morning, because I’m always up by eight, and no one ever comes around for me. “Who?” I croak, blinking owlishly at my mother.
She’s smiling so hard that I think her face might crack. Confusion lances through me until she says, nearly flapping her hands in excitement, “The neighbor girl. Sydney, isn’t it?”
“Oh . . . okay.” This isn’t the good news she thinks it is and I know it. It’s the morning of the wedding and there’s no reason for Sydney to be here, unless she’s going to make up some excuse to cancel on me. “Thanks mom, tell her I’ll be right out.”
Still, she’s got some balls to come say it to my face rather than just stand me up or make her parents do it or something. I have to respect her for that. Not enough to abandon my plan of using the powder on her if she really does bail on me, but still. I’ll be nice about it. I won’t make her feel bad while she’s doing whatever she thinks needs done.
Rejecting you is what she thinks needs done, my mind whispers to me as I change from my sleepwear into jeans and a clean t-shirt. I dash into the bathroom to gargle some mouthwash and run a comb through my hair, and then I walk slowly to the front door, where Sydney stands with her hands clasped in front of her.
“What’s up?” I ask politely, although I know.
I know from the way she’s wringing her hands and the way her mouth is set. I know from her careful expression and the way she’s looking at a point just past me. I know because I know the rules to the universe and how all the cards are stacked against me. Sydney isn’t supposed to be mine, ever, even though if it’s up to me, she absolutely will be.
“Something came up and I won’t be able to go with you this afternoon. I’m really sorry.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” I’m proud that my voice remains calm and casual, like we’re discussing the weather and not the fact that she’s breaking another little piece of my heart.
It shouldn’t hurt because I’d been expecting it, yet it still does. It still fucking does.
“I really am thankful you helped me,” she says—and I’m glad I can hear the guilt in her voice, as I’m hoping it’s burning her up inside. “I really do want to make it up to you. Mama always says not to let a good deed go unrewarded. Maybe I could wash your car or something….”
Of course she’d choose something that doesn’t actually involve spending any time with me, but that’s okay, I can still use the opportunity to carry out my plan.
“It does look like it could use it.” I smile when her face brightens, and the cold chill in my belly is replaced by warmth when she looks directly at me. It’s nice that she’s comforted by my words, although now she really shouldn’t be. “Can you come by tomorrow at this time? Before Sunday service?”
It’ll be a little tricky to pull this off when both of our families expect us to go to church, but if we simply aren’t here when they leave, I know they aren’t going to wait around for us and miss the sermon.
“Yeah, that should work!”
Her excitement turns my smile into a grin. So easy to manipulate—all you have to do is agree with her plans and then twist them whatever way works best, I think gleefully to myself. I nod at her as she says something like, ‘See you then, bye’, but I’m not really listening. I’m already transported into the future, watching myself cupping the powdery contents of the festival baggy in my large hand. I’ll say something like, “I got something for you”, or, “I found this, is it yours?” to get her to look at me, and then I’ll step close and just blow. Blow it all right in her face.
Then what will happen? Well, I’m not so sure about that part. Maybe she’ll just cough and cry and ask what the hell is wrong with me. My heart lurches at the thought, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. I’m tired of waiting for her to just give me a fucking break. A fucking chance. She deserves a face full of powder, whether it’s mind altering or not.
I’m shaking and sweating so bad that my church suit has pit stains and my mom thinks I’ve had too many cups of coffee. Truth be told, I’ve only had a few swallows from one and spilled the rest, but with the way my heart’s trying to pound its way out of my chest, it feels like I’ve had fifty.
Sydney should be here any minute, and I’m not sure I can go through with this.
The little baggy of powder is nearly weightless, yet I can feel it in my pocket, weighing me down. How the hell am I really going to get her to breathe it in? What if she won’t let me get close enough? What if she runs away?
“You don’t look well, Charles.”
I flinch as my mom touches a cool hand to the side of my face. I’d forgotten she was still standing there, watching me warily as she finishes drying dishes before getting ready to go to church with me. Not like I’m actually going to go, but she doesn’t know that, and I should feel a little guilty that I’m standing her up (her only son and favorite child), yet I don’t.
The anger of sitting beside her at my sister’s wedding—both of us dateless, lonely losers—still sticks with me. I’d even had to dance with her a few rounds, just because I’d felt sorry for her, but worrying the whole time that she was just doing it because she felt equally sorry for me.
Sydney shouldn’t have stood me up. It would have made both my mom and I really happy if she’d just sucked it up and gone with me.
I blink at her and shake my head, realizing that I’ve been silent and jittery too long. “I don’t feel very good . . . sorry.”
My voice sounds a little rough, and something in my chest clenches at my mom’s pained expression. “Oh no. Do you want me to stay home—”
“No,” I say abruptly. “Both of us shouldn’t miss church just because of me.”
I think about telling her that I need to go lie down, but that won’t make much sense when Sydney gets here and I pop right up to help her wash my car. Instead, I touch my stomach and make a face. “Stomach is just a bit off, I think. Had too much coffee.”
Her mouth drops open and she scoffs. “I thought you said you only had one cup, mister!”
“I meant one too many,” I say lightly with a twisted smile.
“Uh huh. Well, I’ll tell Pastor Dave to pray for you and your bowels.”
I know she’s joking, but I roll my eyes at her and shake my head. She thinks she’s a comedian, but I’m surely funnier. (Funnier looking, she would say. Then she’d laugh and laugh until I tell her that’s all well and fine because I got my looks from her.)
Luck shines down on me as she goes to shower, to finish getting ready to leave for church without me, right as a knock sounds on the front door. Or maybe it’s the opposite of luck, because even though this gives me some alone time to carry out my plan, I still am shaking more than socially acceptable. Sydney will notice something is off about me. She’ll think I’m sick or she’ll just know that I’m up to something, and then she’ll bail, like she always does.
I crack open the door and peer out at her, my breath catching as I take in the beauty of her Sunday dress. (Okay, it’s just a modest thing made for dressing up for church—all flowery looking with a long skirt and a high neckline—but still, she looks amazing, and her low heels bring her height up to nearly match mine.)
“I set the bucket with the sponges out for you. Hose is all hooked up and sitting in the garden out front. I’ll be out in a little bit, okay?”
She looks momentarily confused, but then (annoyingly) a little relieved. “Yeah, okay.”
I shut the door, before either of us can say anything else, and turn to wash my face with cold water from the kitchen sink. Relax, idiot, I tell myself as I scrub the beads of sweat away. I don’t really have to go through with it if I don’t want to, I realize. I could just hang out with her like a normal human being unless there’s a good opening.
Those thoughts make me feel a little better. The choice is in my hands and I’m the one in control of what happens next. Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe everything. I wish I could go take a nervous piss before going outside to face Sydney, but mom’s definitely in the shower by now, so I settle for pacing back and forth between the kitchen and the living room. Walking meditation, or counting my breaths, has always helped me calm down when I get super stressed out. I clear my mind, focusing only on my breathing, and then after a few minutes I make my way outside to see what Sydney’s gotten herself up to.
A smile breaks across my face as I see her gingerly hosing my car down. She seems to realize that she shouldn’t have put on her church clothes yet, but apparently instead of bailing once again, she’s decided to summon up some of that notorious stubborn pride. I watch her for a few moments, relishing in her discomfort, before I call out, “Maybe we can wait to do this until after!”
I like the look of gratitude she shoots me. It’s not like I really am going to let her go to church, if my plan works the way I’ve been fantasizing it does, but telling her what she wants to hear and being rewarded with those bright blue eyes fixed on me is heavenly. I love the way her pink mouth looks when it’s quirked up in that soft smile. It makes me want to kiss her, to feel the plumpness of her lips, and taste the innocence of her tongue.
Before I can get too carried away thinking about her tongue, I take the hose from her and say, “If that’s alright with you, of course.”
“I didn’t plan very well did I?” Her eyes twinkle up at me and I suppress the shock that threatens to overtake my face.
Is she joking around and being vulnerable with me? Stay cool, dumbass, I tell myself as I chuckle lightly. “Maybe not so much.”
The moment passes and she looks away, and I know that this is my chance—she’s standing so close and in the next moment she’s going to excuse herself and walk away.
“Sydney?” I fumble with the little packet in my pocket, realizing desperately that I should already have emptied it into my hand before I got this far. “I think I found something that belongs to you….”
Is my voice shaking as badly as I think it is? She’s looking from my face to my hands, her brows furrowed, and I quickly open the packet but conceal what’s in it with one of my broad palms, dumping the powder into my other palm (and hoping that it looks like it might be an earring or a ring), and then holding my closed fist up near her face.
“Here,” I say, like I’m going to open my hand and show her, but instead I lean forward, blowing hard as my fingers unfurl to let the dust fly right into her confused, gaping face. She gasps like an idiot, breathing it in, and immediately begins to choke and gag.
I freeze and watch her. Watch her double over as she coughs. Watch her eyes stream with tears. Watch as she rubs desperately at her face. Part of me expects her to start screaming, to start crying out, “Why? Why?”, but she doesn’t say anything—doesn’t make any sound except the bodily sounds of her lungs trying to expel a foreign substance.
And then suddenly she straightens and the coughing stops.
“Are you okay?” I whisper to her, taking in her mascara streaked cheeks and reddened face.
She blinks at me like she’s dazed, or like she doesn’t quite know who I am. “Yes.”
Oh my God—did it work? Why isn’t she angry at me? Shouldn’t she be yelling and running away, if the powder was a scam and the festival guy was full of bullshit?
I can barely contain my excitement. The shaking is now because I’m so jazzed up that I don’t know what I should ask of her first, but reason overcomes any of the wild things I might like to start out with, so instead I murmur, “Will you hang out with me today?”
“Yes.” Her watery eyes are glued to mine and I don’t think she’s ever looked more beautiful.
She’s finally looking at me! Really and truly looking at me! Like I’m the only person in the entire world that exists.
Perhaps right now you are, and time is ticking away….
(What did the festival guy say? One dose works for two hours?)
“Let’s go for a drive. Get in the car.”
Sydney doesn’t even hesitate. She walks right over to the passenger side door and gets in like she really wants to go—buckling herself in and smoothing her dress down over her knees. Like she’s supposed to be going somewhere with me. Like she belongs in my car.
I hurry to the driver’s side before anyone can stop us from taking off. I don’t actually see anyone outside—Sydney’s parents and brother must still be getting ready for church just like my mom is, and who knows what the other neighbors are up to—but I don’t want to take my chances by lollygagging around.
No. I want to get Sydney all to myself somewhere alone. I want to spend some real time with her, one on one, and have her really see me. I want to see what effect the powder has on her, and what all I can get her to do….