The Spectacular Now (Page 11)

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“Yeah, it’s probably about time.”

Chapter 8

We’re a bit late getting back to the canal, but Ricky’s not pissed at all. He and Bethany are sitting shoulder to shoulder on a bench overlooking the water, grinning like a couple of grade school kids at a puppet show, and neither of them could care less if we ever came back.

On the drive home, Bethany talks more than I’ve ever heard her talk before. Really animated. She’s going on and on about how Ricky did his own hilarious narration of the boat ride as if it were an attraction at Disneyland and how he made up stories for all the people passing by. It made her laugh so hard she thought she was going to throw up. Of course, making up stories for people is a regular routine for me and Ricky—and some of the stuff he told Bethany he stole from me—but that’s all right. My plan’s working to perfection. The Sutterman has done it again. I’m so proud of myself, at first I don’t bother to pay much attention to the pair of headlights tailing us down Twelfth Street.

By the time we get back to Tara’s car, Ricky and Bethany already feel like a couple. But it’s not like Ricky’s going to grab her and lay a big, wet kiss on her right there in the parking lot. He doesn’t blow it, though. “That was fun,” he says, “let’s do it again sometime.”

“That’d be great,” she says, all sparkly.

“Next Friday would be a splendiferous time to do it,” I add. The boy still needs a little help in sealing the deal.

“Friday would be perfect,” she says. “I guess I’ll talk to you at school.”

“Oh, he’ll call you before then,” I say, and this time he’s pretty quick on the uptake—“Yeah, I’ll call you.”

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She gives him a sweet little shy smile and says, “Okay, good,” and ducks into Tara’s Camry.

A car’s idling about fifteen yards behind us, the same one that was behind us coming down Twelfth, but I’m still not paying much attention to it. Instead, I plant a friendly hug around Tara’s shoulder and tell her I hope everything works out all right for her mom. Next thing I know, she’s wrapping both arms around me, squeezing me like a tube of toothpaste and pressing her cheek against my chest. “I’m glad we ran into each other tonight,” she says. “Thanks for the beers and listening to me and my stupid problems and, you know, giving me advice and everything.”

I pat her hair and say, “No problem.”

That’s when the car door slams behind me. I turn around, and wouldn’t you know it but there’s Cassidy. It was her friend Kendra’s car behind us the whole time.

“Hi, Sutter,” says Cassidy, and not in a friendly way.

“Hey,” I say, prying myself out of Tara’s arms. “Cassidy. Did you all have a good time at the movie?”

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She stands there with her arms crossed. “Obviously not as good a time as you had.”

“Uh, yeah. We just kind of lent the girls some beers.” There’s no way to explain my plan for hooking up Ricky and Bethany right now, not with Bethany sitting in the car right behind me.

Cassidy has THE LOOK on her face. “Uh-huh, right. I saw you crawling all over each other.”

“No, really. Tara’s mom’s kicking her stepdad out of the house and they were celebrating and…”

Cassidy holds up a hand to stop me. “I don’t want to hear it. All I asked you to do was one simple thing—to just consider my feelings when you’re doing something. Just for once, put someone else’s feelings before your own. That’s all I asked, just that one thing. But you couldn’t even come close.”

Aha. So that’s what she wanted me to do.

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“Sure I can,” I say. “I can do that.” Really, I’m not so sure I can, but now that I actually know what it is she wants, I’m ready to give it a serious try.

She’s not buying it, though. “It’s too late, Sutter.” She flings the car door open. “You’re a lost cause.”

“No, I’m not,” I say. “I’m really not.”

But she just climbs back into the car, slams the door, and rolls up the window.

“What’s her problem?” Tara asks from behind me.

“High expectations,” I say. “Misplaced high expectations.”

Chapter 9

My job is okay. You know what an okay job is, don’t you? It’s a job you only hate some of the time instead of all of the time. I fold shirts at Mr. Leon’s Fine Men’s Clothing store over on Eastern. Actually, the shirt folding is just busywork. I’m supposed to be a salesman, but customers are pretty sparse. Who wants to come to Mr. Leon’s when you can go to the mall? Last summer, we had four locations in the greater metro area, but now there’s only two left. It’s just a matter of time before Mr. Leon’s completely dries up and blows away. Dead and gone. Like the Indian Taco place that used to be next door.

But the lack of customers isn’t what I hate about the job. In fact, I dread hearing the bell above the door ring. Yes, we still have one of those bells above the door. Mr. Leon’s gets two types of customers—old guys who want stuff that went out of style ten years ago and the young twenty-one-or twenty-two-year-old sales guys. Funny, it’s the young guys that give me the creepy-crawlies the most.

Once I saw this documentary about some primitive tribe in the South American rain forest, and they were, like, so cool. They didn’t wear anything but these little flaps that barely covered their downstairs business—the women included—and they walked around in the forest, free and wild, weaving baskets, shooting toucans with blowguns, and all sorts of cool stuff. Then civilization starts creeping in and the next thing you know, they’re wearing these limp T-shirts and long-collared polyester shirts and looking like little winos. It was enough to break your heart.

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