Marissa stands next to the cart corral idly rolling one of the bright blue shopping carts back and forth. Her black boots look like an extension of the pavement. I walk out with Gavin, the night manager, and both of us are surprised to see her standing there. I know he's surprised because he takes a deep breath and doesn't let it out. Gavin once told me that he was going to start working out so Marissa would notice him. As far as I can tell, he decided to step up the time he spent playing World of Warcraft instead. I, on the other hand, have no such delusions. Marissa is out of my league. Her Shop-Mart vest pokes out of her purse as she steps toward us.
"Kirk," she says. I know I wear a nametag and everything, but I had no idea she knew my name.
I straighten my posture and cross my arms in front of me for no apparent reason. But now that I've done it, I can't put them back at my sides. So, with my arms crossed, I give her a smile and hope she doesn't see the zit on my chin.
"I've been waiting for you," she says. Gavin lets his breath out in one heave, as if she punched him in the stomach. "My brother was supposed to pick me up. And he's not answering his phone." She teases her bangs with her fingers which causes my stomach to slingshot up between my lungs.
Gavin opens his mouth, but no words come out. Just this tiny whine, like a whistle underwater.
"I was hoping I could catch a ride with you."
I immediately scan a mental checklist of all the embarrassing things in my car, things that weren't embarrassing until this moment. Discarded McDonald's bag, possibly plural. The Playboy that Drew waved around all day yesterday saying that the centerfold looked like my sister and which currently is laying face down in the backseat. The black sunglasses I bought at 7-11 for a dollar that Frank wrote Ray Ban on the arm with a silver marker. Not to mention that the car itself is a 1982 Ford Fairmont shaped like a door stop. I drove it over a cement block in a parking lot last winter and now it leaks transmission fluid. I'm sure Marissa will be impressed when she has to wait while I add a quart before we can drive off.
"No problem," I say. I'm a realist; I know how these things work. She probably picked the one guy she knew wouldn't hit on her. Marissa's a celebrity at Shop-Mart, someone to be viewed from afar. The lives of the beautiful rarely mix with the common folk.
Unless their brothers forget to pick them up.
"Thank you so much," she says as she falls in step beside me. Gavin watches, his mouth opening and closing like the last hole of a miniature golf course.
"See you tomorrow," I say to him for the last time. Shop Mart's final day in existence is tomorrow, and the only person I'm truly going to miss seeing is walking with me across the parking lot, her boots clacking on the pavement. She smells like the sprinkler I used to jump through when I was a kid. Crisp and clean.
My dad always opens the door for my mom, so at the last second, I decide to get the door for Marissa. It shrieks like a hawk diving for a rodent.
"Do you always do that?" she asks
I can't tell her she's the first girl who's gotten into the passenger seat. Instead of answering, I begin coughing loudly.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah," I say as I shut the door.
I run around to the other side, open my door, and pop the hood. "Sorry. This'll only take a second." She doesn't look up as I reach into the back seat and grab the transmission fluid and a funnel from the floorboard. I cough loudly again and jam the Playboy under my seat. Mission accomplished.
The hood screeches louder than the door, but Marissa just stares out her window across the parking lot. I gingerly place the funnel into the engine, desperately trying not to get grease on my hands.
When I shut the hood, I see that Marissa is now wearing my sunglasses and flipping through the Playboy. I get in and start the car.
"If you wear these glasses," she says, "they almost look like real people." Her hair brushes lightly against her shoulder as she turns the page.
"Drew left that in here."
"I know. I heard him telling everyone in the break room that the centerfold looked like your sister."
Marissa laughs, and it's as if she told me a secret. I didn't even know I could get her to do that. She closes the magazine and tosses it into the backseat. Then she turns to me, and I see myself reflected in the sunglasses. I look scared as hell.
We don't say much on the way to her house. Simple directions: Turn left here. Go straight through the stop sign. I take a peek at her face and realize she has a zit in the same exact spot as me. I quite like it, though it appears she tried to cover it with makeup. It's just barely breaking the surface, a small rose on her chin.
"Turn right on Maple," she says. "Second to last house on the right." She finally takes off the sunglasses and puts them on the dashboard.
Cars are lined down the street, bumper to bumper. As I pull the Fairmont up in front of her house, a black BMW with silver rims squeals out of a spot and tears down the street. "Oh! Grab that spot," she yells. My shoulder muscles tighten under my work shirt. Now she'll see how bad I parallel park.
After the third attempt, I get the Fairmont fairly wedged in. Marissa pulls her phone out of her bag and types on a keyboard. "If my brother's on his way home, you mind waiting? This is a great spot." She finishes her text and smiles at me. Her smoky eyes crinkle and two enormous dimples form on her cheeks. I've never seen her smile at work. "Ever since they built all these apartments around here, we can never find parking."
"I don't mind waiting," I say even though I promised my mom I'd be home by eleven. There's no way I'm going to call her, though. Marissa fidgets in her seat, and I expect her to say she's going to head inside, leaving me to wait alone. And with a pang, I realize I'd do it.
"What are you going to do with your money?" she asks.
The money is all anyone has talked about for days. Since Shop-Mart is going out of business, every employee is getting two additional weeks pay as a severance package. For the first time, wearing a blue vest has become a source of pride. Or at least free money. I haven't figured out what I'm going to do with my two hundred and fifty dollars, but I need to come up with something stellar to tell Marissa.
"I'm going on a road trip," I say.
"Really? Where to?"
"Grand Canyon." It was the first place that came to mind. My parents went there for their anniversary.
"Anyone going with you?"
"Just my dog," I say and hope that she doesn't press me any further. "Just me and the dog." I don't have a dog.
"That's really cool. I'll probably spend it all on clothes," she says and smiles.
We lapse into silence, and I know it's my fault. I don't know what else to say to her.
I look out my window at the cars parked across the street. Almost all of them have expensive rims. The driver's side of a silver Honda is directly across from me. I see the shadow of a head. Someone else is sitting in their car, probably trying to save a spot as well. But something's not right. The window is hazy. I lean forward, narrowing my eyes, and I try to think of other things besides blood that could be smeared on the glass like that.
My neck thickens around my head as if it's trying to pop it off. I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation.
And then Marissa is on top of me. Her lips mash against mine and her tongue pokes at my lips. Her right hand clutches my left thigh, holding herself steady. She squeezes her eyes shut and her nose and forehead wrinkle. Her tongue finds its way into my mouth, and I taste the Twizzlers I saw her eating earlier while she leaned against her cash register.
The image of the spattered window floats in front of me. We need to call the cops. Marissa will be distraught; we'll be up all night answering questions. A cop in plainclothes, an unlit cigar in his mouth, telling me I'm a suspect. Marissa recoiling in horror.
I pull away, pressing my head into the headrest. She's stretched diagonally across the car, her left knee on the passenger's seat. Her face is inches from mine, and I see the miniscule smattering of blackheads on the bridge of her nose.
How do I get into these situations? This is exactly like when I got my driver license. I told Drew and Frank that I'd take them to see a movie. As we were turning into the parking lot, a mini-van plowed into the back of a tiny hatchback car and yanked off its bumper. It was the car's fault, but I knew the van would be blamed. The car had stopped suddenly because the driver had missed her turn. But I always do the right thing. Drew and Frank went to the movie and I stayed to talk with the police as an eyewitness to the accident.
Marissa opens her eyes. "It's okay if you want to grab my breast. But you can't go under my shirt." She presses her face against mine again, and I let my tongue rub against hers.
If there really is a dead guy in the Honda, its not like he'll be un-dead in a few minutes. He can wait.
Then his door clicks open.
I jerk my head into the seat, which sends Marissa backward into the horn. It reverberates loudly in the still night air. It's as if a spotlight has illuminated my car and for the first time I wonder how the guy in the Honda got the way he is. Someone must have done it to him and now he knows there are witnesses.
"I'm sorry," she says. "I should've asked." Her pink lips hover above her delicate chin, her eyes half-closed. Not many people get to see Marissa leaning toward them, waiting for a kiss.
This is it. I know, just as I know my true place in life, that this will not happen again. After Shop-Mart closes its doors tomorrow, there will be no reason for us to talk. She'll wave to me if we run into each other in school, but I'm in AP classes and she's in Intermediate. We never cross paths. But tonight, in this moment, I have the opportunity to be someone else. I can be the person who sees the face she's making right now.
She's about to go back to her side of the car. I don't know what to say to stop her so I reach out with my right hand and squeeze her left breast as if I'm making a selection in a jukebox.
It's not even close to what I thought it would feel like. For some reason, I thought they would feel firm, like a full water balloon. Instead, it's like the jell-o my mom makes on movie night.
She looks at me, a little shocked. "I can't believe you did that."
I pull my hand away. "I'm sorry, I thought you said . . . "
She laughs again, and it's more wonderful than the first time. "You have no idea how adorable you are, do you?"
How do I respond to that? "No."
"I thought I scared you off. With Shop-Mart closing, I figured if I didn't kiss you right now we'd never get the chance." She runs her fingers through her bangs, and it hits me: This is what she does when she's nervous.
The Honda door lurches open, the window catching the same streetlight that is falling softly on Marissa's face. I tilt my head slightly and see the open door, a pale hand with hairy knuckles clutching the side of the car. Blood drips onto the cement.
Not much time left.
I push my lips into hers, wrapping my arms around her tiny waist. It feels good to take charge. Then I hear the dry slap of a body hitting the ground so I figure I should stop. She leans back and catches her breath. "Marissa, I'm sorry, I have to tell you something."
"You have a girlfriend, don't you?"
"No. Not at all." But it feels amazing she would think so.
She touches her bangs again.
"I'm not going on a road trip," I say. "I'll probably blow my money on video games and books. Maybe take my mom to the movies for Mother's Day."
She places a gentle kiss on my cheek.
"You're a good kisser," I say. As if I have anyone to compare her to.
"Do you remember the first time we met?"
"Of course." I was the one that trained her to run the register at Shop-Mart.
"What was the first thing you noticed about me?"
"That your left ear is lower than your right."
She turns red and covers both of her ears. "Oh my god!"
"I thought you were beautiful."
"When I first saw you, I thought you should be in a movie. Like the ones where they turn the plain girl into the most popular girl in school." I guess that's a compliment.
The sound of legs dragging over gravel.
She's still in front of me, all of her imperfections making her even more appealing. "You have a zit in the same spot as me," I say.
She puts her hand over her chin and gazes at me. Then she tilts her head to the side and looks closely at my zit, like a dentist peering into a mouth.
"I didn't notice," she says.
I hear a raspy breath outside my door, like someone is sucking a grape through a straw.
"I'm sorry I said that thing about my shirt earlier," Marissa says. She takes my hand and slowly slides it under her white cotton work shirt. Heat pours from her chest. Her bra feels like the placemats my mom puts on the table when we have company.
The dragging sound stops and my mouth goes dry. I'm waiting for the inevitable thump on the car door.
A headlight pierces the back window. Marissa gives me one last kiss and then throws herself onto her seat, a cloud of her scent washing over me like the smell of fresh rain.
"That's my brother," she says. "We only have one headlight."
I can't see anything through the fog on the window. Maybe it isn't her brother. Maybe it's the black BMW that sped away earlier. Returning to finish the job.
I suddenly figure out exactly what I'm dealing with. I could be the random guy Marissa made out with before Shop-Mart went out of business. The kind of dorky guy that she now feels awkward around. Or I could be the guy that confronted danger and handled a terrifying situation. That's the guy she holds hands with in public.
The car pulls up a few feet behind us, the engine rumbling loudly.
"Don't get out," I say.
"It's just my brother."
I picture the injured man crumpled in the street like a full bag of trash. "Let me see what's going on," I say. In movies, I can always imagine something worse than what appears on screen. I don't know about in real life, though.
"Is everything OK, Kirk?" Her eyebrows bunch together like two caterpillars attempting to crawl across her face.
"There's one other thing I'd like to do with my money," I say. "I'd like to take you out to dinner."
"You wish." She smiles and grazes my knee with her hand.
"I'm glad Shop-Mart is closing down."
The car rumbles in the street behind us, its one headlight flickering, but no one has emerged. I don't know if it's Marissa's brother or the BMW. I don't know if the man in the street is still alive.
There's only one way to find out.