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."
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.
spelunker," I guess I'm asking too much of Jake's vocabulary, "I
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
Damn. Think brain. Reasonable question. Come on
reasonable answer. Big money, no whammies.
"I have an
endowment through the Pew Charitable Trusts"
PBS does teach you something.
That shut him up
for a while. Complete silence, thank god.
"I work on
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
So what the hell do I ask a guy who fixes trucks?
"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
"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.
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.
"Lemon Ice coming
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
"Where do you keep the Gatorade?"
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
Mike, with his name embroidered on his chest,
begins ringing up the gum and Gatorade, and then he pauses.
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
"Yeah, she's a little sick but-"
you know if she has a boyfriend?"
I blink. I blink again. You
must be fucking kidding me.
"No. She's single."
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
Mike, his name on his chest, smiles, revealing his huge white
teeth and deep dimples on either side of his massive head.
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.
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.
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.
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."
guess I do."
The sound of AC/DC half tuned-in fills the
"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
"...Cause I'm TNT..."
Oh no. He's singing
it at me.
He's singing into a
"I'm TNT, I'll win the fight...."
Oh lord, he's
gyrating his hips.
"I'm TNT, I'm a power load..."
voice is getting quieter as he puts his thick lips closer to my ear.
"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
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
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
"We were just talking about you, Manda,"
Heather says in a slur that proves she hasn't come even close to
"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!"
now I'm blushing.
"How could you think reverse was fourth?"
"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
"See you tomorrow?"
We'll double with Mike's friend, right Manda?"
"Sure, I guess." I try to go along.
you'll like him," Heather chirps, "He's got red hair like
you. Well, more orangey, right Mike?" He nods happily.
damn. The things I do for friendship. Mental note to self, bring
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
"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
"Nice seeing you guys again. See you soon,
"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
"What do you mean?"
"He was the only man
"You wrote him love
letters every day for a semester? Sixth grade? He sat next to you in
Now I feel sick. Really sick. I can see my cheeks
go green when I look down.
"That was not."
was. You think we'd get a ride with a stranger?"
was little Jimmy Randolph?"
"The Jimmy Randolph you
called maybe fifty times a day and hung up after he answered."
"His parents were really nice after that
whole nasty call tracing police thing, hey?"
not Jimmy Randolph."
"At least they didn't press
"That can not be the same Jim Randolph."
and the same. He's just moved back into town."
"Ok, Mrs. Amanda Randolph."
"I'll never love anybody more than Jim Randolph.
He's the cutest boy in the whole world," she says
"I've never been more under whelmed by someone in
my entire life."
"He dug you."
"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
"Don't forget to drink plenty
of Gatorade," I nag.
"You too. You don't need a hangover
"Like I want a swig of your puke backwash or
We burst into another fit of giggles and
eventually pass out.