Heather Needs Gatorade
A. C. Peterson


What am I doing here?

Here I am, feeling lousy and dressed like a freak sitting in this huge, stupid pick-up truck with Heather and some guy I don't even know as his muffler wakes my whole neighborhood three towns over. I mean, it's Heather that really likes this guy, right? So how did I get stuck in the middle between them? Heather keeps talking over me, as if I was an annoying pillar she wished weren't there.

And this guy, Justin or Jake or whatever his name was again, is looking more at us than at the road. And his driving, Jesus, he bobs up and down with the motion of the truck and slams the stick into gear as if it had done something to really piss him off. Which is fine in first and third, but I can feel the bruises rising already from his last shift into second gear straight into my left kneecap. His every shift involves a quick glance at my knee and a rough apology as if he hadn't noticed I was there before.

And Heather, giggling loudly into my ears to make sure this meaty metal head at the wheel can hear her amusement at his every word.

At the stoplight, the truck's rumble quiets down to a jerky purr and all conversation dies. Heather nervously ratts her bangs with her fingertips as her vacant, I've-had-too-much-Boone's-Strawberry-Hill smile begins to fade and turn a little green.

"Jimmy. I'm feeling a little not good," her voice fading as her face goes ghost white.
"Huh?" the meathead, whose name I thought was something like Junior, responds.
Afraid for the truck cab, I blurt out, "Pull Over. She's gonna barf."
Heather's face is awash with a lovely shade of green, from the Boone's or the embarrassment I can't tell.

Jake or whatever pulls into the gas station and we both sit there as Heather drags herself only as far as the bushes behind the Shell.

I guess I should go help her. Hold her hand, make sure she's ok, pull the matted hair off her forehead and tell her she's going to be alright. But I'm feeling not so charitable tonight. It was her flaky brother that ditched us at that party without a ride home. It was her drunken judgment that got us a ride with this John or Jay the meathead. And it's her sick ass that's keeping me in the cab of a strange truck 25 minutes from home at 3 in the morning.

"So, what do you do now?" the beast that may or may not be named Jeffery asks. I improvise quickly.
"I'm a spelunker," I guess I'm asking too much of Jake's vocabulary, "I explore caves."
"Oh."
Silence.
Then he continues, "That's cool. I rock climb a lot. I guess that it's probably a lot of the same stuff. Except you get the hat with the light.... Cause for rock climbing you usually can see.... Cause going at night is dangerous. But going at all is dangerous if you think...." He goes on. Damn. I should have gone for the marine biologist line. Or a pharmacological researcher. All I know about rocks rivals my knowledge of the intricacies of the ever-popular Flo-bee haircutting system -- almost absolutely nothing. See, I never tell people what I really do. Nobody but me cares as much about my job, so if I tell them my real job, I'm insulted if they're not impressed. I mean, hell, I could be an art director for Hustler and if that were what I really did, this bozo would still be less interested in my job than I am. It's just the way the world works. So I tell people I do something I don't care about either. That way me and that way we are equally bored by the topic and I don't have to talk about it. Unfortunately Jeremy the meathead is also a rock head.

"But I really thought that I got more out of the climb up north, ya know what I mean?"
I wake up from my daze, realizing he's expecting a response.
"Oh, yeah." I add, hoping it was a yes-or-no question.
"So, no offense, but how do you make money spelunking? I thought it was just a hobby sport."
Damn. Think brain. Reasonable question. Come on reasonable answer. Big money, no whammies.
"I have an endowment through the Pew Charitable Trusts"
Wow. Watching PBS does teach you something.
"Oh."
That shut him up for a while. Complete silence, thank god.
"I work on trucks."
No. I never would have guessed a greasy metal head like Jake would be a mechanic. Sure, my mechanic is a little old Japanese guy with petite hands, tiny bifocals and a girlie giggle, and a lot of mechanics aren't meatheads. Then again, most meatheads are mechanics, or even worse, just want to be after they finish tech school.

So what the hell do I ask a guy who fixes trucks?
"Foreign or domestic?"
"Oh, both really. I fix semis so of course there are more American made trucks than foreign but you have to be able to handle..."
See? He told me what he really does and already I'm completely bored and he's too excited about talking about trucks to notice. He doesn't even pause as the sound of Heather's retching resumes loudly.

"So, do you have a boyfriend?" he asks. Damn. He wants to hook me up with his meathead friend so he can see more of my weak-stomached friend.
"A few." Ok, so I lie. "Nothing too serious, I guess." Now that's not a lie. When you've got nothing, you've got nothing serious.
"Oh," he's thinking of a way to bring up his friend. A guy I'd really get along with. A guy that likes caves. Or fat redheads. Whatever.
"Yeah." He adds in the most thoughtful way a man with eyes that far apart from each other can be.
The car goes silent. We go back to watching the back of Heather jerk around in the bushes. I feel James' hand on my knee.
"I better go get her some Gatorade," I say as I start to leave the truck.
He wraps his head around my neck and pulls my face into his cracked, thick lips. His teeth hit against mine as I try to protest.
His breath is like the smell of raw chicken in a microwave and I feel ill as he wets the face around my mouth with those thick chicken lips.
He lets me go and smiles. I nod and mumble, "Thanks." I don't know what this guy will try next, but I certainly don't want to piss him off. I may think I'm tough, but this bastard works on semis.
"Well, better go get that Gatorade," I nervously laugh. And mints. Uck. I need lots of breath mints.
"Oh," Whatshisname adds.
I step down on to the pavement, scraping the driveway as I wobble along in awkward heels. Heather looks up from her bush.
"Manda?"
"Yeah, sweetie?"
"Gatorade?"
"Lemon Ice coming up."
She smiles and sits herself on the concrete curb, mascara down to her cheekbones and stockings snagged up from the bushes. Whateverhisnameis just stares at me with that pathetic smile I've already learned to hate.

A zit-faced kid gapes from behind the counter at the Hostess Cupcake display. I just want to hand him a damn chocolate cupcake already.
"Where do you keep the Gatorade?"
No response. Maybe he's really stoned. Maybe he died. Either way, he's not telling me the location of the Gatorade. I dig through the cooler. Forty-ounce cans of beer, some random sodas and a few dusty cans of Yoo-Hoo block my path to the one bottle of Gatorade in the whole place. I knock over six or seven plastic bottles of root beer as I grab the liter tub of lemonade Gatorade. I kick the one root beer that fell on the floor closer to the cooler so that zombie boy can put it away easily, but without making myself bend down in these heels, which may just cause me to fall flat on my ass.

I put the Gatorade on the counter and grab a box of Clorets from the candy rack. The orange-haired kid behind the counter just sits there, staring through me. It'd be silly to use the bell, since the guy's right here, but come on. I lift the Gatorade and slam it down hard, a thudding echo of plastic rattles through the counter.

This zit-faced, orange-haired zombie slowly glances up at my face, then at the Gatorade, then at my face again. He finally hollers, "Mike, you got a customer."

Out of the auto shop lumbers a tall, heavy guy in a mechanic's jumpsuit. He brushes his dark, curly hair from his eyes and takes the helm of the cash register.
"Is that all, Miss?" he asks. Thank god he says, "Miss." I don't think I'm mentally prepared for "Ma'm" tonight.
"Yeah, I think that's about it."
Mike, with his name embroidered on his chest, begins ringing up the gum and Gatorade, and then he pauses.
"Hey, are you with that girl out in back?"
Great. Now some gas station guy is gonna yell at me about fouling his gas station or some such. I'll be hosing down pukey bushes until six in the morning.
"Yeah, she's a little sick but-"
"Do you know if she has a boyfriend?"
I blink. I blink again. You must be fucking kidding me.
"No. She's single."
Mike is contemplating the situation and all I want is a frigging piece of gum so I can forget the whole ugly incident with the human pork chop waiting for me in his truck.
"She's straight too," I add.
Mike, his name on his chest, smiles, revealing his huge white teeth and deep dimples on either side of his massive head.
"Can I, uh, bring her the Gatorade?"
"Yeah, sure." Why not? "Her name's Heather."
"Heather. Cool. Mine's Mike by the way."
"I can see that," I poke at his embroidered name, almost exactly at the height of my eyes.
"Oh yeah." Mike laughs.
Mike bags up the Gatorade and I snatch the gum from the counter before he can bag it. We leave the store, his orange-haired friend still pondering the cupcakes. I walk completely engulfed in his massive shadow. It's reassuring to know that Jack or Jessie or whatever his name is can't stare at me until the very last moment. I pop two pieces of the gum in my mouth, crunching into the candy shell loudly enough to get Heather's attention. I toss her the rest in the box as Mike sits down on the curb next to her and introduces himself, handing her the Gatorade.

I climb back in the truck, trying to avoid eye contact with Jeremy or whatever while trying not to stare at Heather leaning her nauseous head on the shoulder of Mike's gray-blue jumpsuit. I fiddle with the dials on the ancient radio in the truck cab.
"Hey," Jay grunts, "I was listening to that."
I turn it back and pretend to be angry as an excuse to avoid looking at him. He tries to start another conversation.
"Who's that guy?" He asks.
I lie. "A friend of mine. I thought he should meet Heather. They'd really get along."
"I can see that. Doesn't he know she just ralphed? Sick. You have weird friends."
"Yeah. I guess I do."
The sound of AC/DC half tuned-in fills the truck.
"Wow. I love this song!" Justin or whatever turns up the dial and sings along badly.
"I'm dirty, I'm mean, I'm mighty unclean, if you know what I mean..."
Are those really the words?
"...Cause I'm TNT..."
Oh no. He's singing it at me.
"...I'm dynamite..."
He's singing into a comb.
"I'm TNT, I'll win the fight...."
Oh lord, he's gyrating his hips.
"I'm TNT, I'm a power load..."
His voice is getting quieter as he puts his thick lips closer to my ear. Oh god.
"TNT, watch me explode..."
Please. Get me the hell out of this.
"Oy! Oy! Oy!"
Since when was AC/DC Yiddish sweet nothings? I open the door.
"I better check on Heather."

I walk over to the couple, Mike wiping the wisps of bangs off of Heather's forehead as she sips the massive bottle of Gatorade. I just stand there, not wanting to intrude. Heather gestures for me to come over.

She pats the curb next to her. I sit. She wraps one arm around my shoulder. Her right arm is still around Mike's waist. Mike is grinning.
"We were just talking about you, Manda," Heather says in a slur that proves she hasn't come even close to sobering up.
"Oh really?" Now I'm really freaked out. It's enough that gas station attendants fall in love with her as she's puking. This is just weird.
"She told me about the time you destroyed your car driving her all the way to Indiana to meet her dad," Mike chimes in.
"You didn't even have your license for a month," Heather laughs, "We took side streets for four hours before you got brave enough to go on 290!"
Ok, so now I'm blushing.
"How could you think reverse was fourth?" Mike asks.
"I didn't get my license on a stick shift, ok?" So now I'm on the defensive, but I'm still laughing. And Heather's laughing. And Mike's laughing. And tears are rolling down Heather's face because she can't stop laughing. And I mean hell, Heather and I are drunk, but shit, the image of me and Heather at 16, standing in the middle of the highway with my car smoking, blocking off three tollbooths with car parts, thinking that we blew up the car because I forgot windshield wiper fluid, now that's funny. Well, it's funny now. It's certainly funnier now than it was then. It wasn't too funny to my parents who thought I was sleeping over at Heather's house. But screw them if they don't have a sense of humor.

"Well Mike, it's been fun," Heather hugs him goodbye, the Gatorade still in hand, "but I've got to get home before the sun comes up."
I feel awkward, like I shouldn't be here for their goodbye.
"See you tomorrow?"
"Of course! We'll double with Mike's friend, right Manda?"
Oh please no.
"Sure, I guess." I try to go along.
"Oh, you'll like him," Heather chirps, "He's got red hair like you. Well, more orangey, right Mike?" He nods happily.
Oh damn. The things I do for friendship. Mental note to self, bring Hostess cupcakes.

We wave goodbye and climb in the cab with Jerry, or whatever, who's still busy singing along to the hard metal hits of the 80s on the radio. At least his singing keeps us from having to fake an interesting conversation. I forget if I told him I was a stewardess or a psychologist or what. I forget what he does too, but I'd bet a dollar it involves working on cars.

Heather brings her clammy head from outside the window to bark directions to Jeffery over the staticy radio music. Her sweaty face then returns to the cool air.

"So do you live close to Heather?" Justin asks, accompanying it with a look which I'd have to assume is an attempt at seduction, or some other horny facial gesture, but just ends up scrunching his face up in a weird way that scares the hell out of me. I squeeze Heather's hand in the most subtle way I can for support and I quickly rack my brain for any possible way to get out of getting that chicken breath goodnight kiss, if not more.

"Don't worry about it, Jim. Manda's sleeping over at my house tonight." Heather says with a cute smirk, "Sleep-overs. It's a girl thing, ya know."
Jake looks let down, but still confident.
"Well I guess we'll have to get together another time, if ya know what I mean?"
Yeah, right. Gag. I nod in a complete attempt to be non-committal.
He laughs. "I guess you still have my number."
I don't get it, but I laugh to go along. "I'm sure I do." God, I hope that was a logical response for whatever he's laughing about. I just want to get home, get out of the car, and sleep on Heather's couch until my hangover kicks my ass in the morning.

"Here it is. Thanks Jim." Heather climbs out of the car before it's even completely stopped.
"Yeah thanks!" I wave and hop out before he can touch me. Heather's still laughing.
"Nice seeing you guys again. See you soon, Amanda."
"Yep!" I wave again. Ok, leave already. Just go. Come on. Leave. The truck sits in the driveway as Heather fumbles with the keys. The door swings open; we run in and slam the door behind us, giggling.

"So I guess he wasn't all that after all, eh?" Heather asks.
"What do you mean?"
"He was the only man for you."
"What?"
"You wrote him love letters every day for a semester? Sixth grade? He sat next to you in Spanish?"
Now I feel sick. Really sick. I can see my cheeks go green when I look down.
"That was not."
"That was. You think we'd get a ride with a stranger?"
"That was little Jimmy Randolph?"
"The Jimmy Randolph you called maybe fifty times a day and hung up after he answered."
"No. Couldn't be."
"His parents were really nice after that whole nasty call tracing police thing, hey?"
"That is not Jimmy Randolph."
"At least they didn't press charges."
"That can not be the same Jim Randolph."
"One and the same. He's just moved back into town."
"He's disgusting now!"
"Ok, Mrs. Amanda Randolph."
"Stop it."
"I'll never love anybody more than Jim Randolph. He's the cutest boy in the whole world," she says mockingly.
"I've never been more under whelmed by someone in my entire life."
"He dug you."
"He's a moron."
"He's your prince charming."

We laugh and throw couch cushions at each other, tearing up the living room in hectic fashion, using up what little energy we have.

"I'm gonna crash right here," I say in my most drunken voice.
"Me too."
"Don't forget to drink plenty of Gatorade," I nag.
"You too. You don't need a hangover either."
"Like I want a swig of your puke backwash or something."
"That's gross."
"So's Jimmy Randolph."
We burst into another fit of giggles and eventually pass out.


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