“I can’t do the job, Jake,” he’d said after way too many beers at Quincy’s Bar and Grille. They added the e on the end because they thought it was fancy. Like chicken wings and fried cheese could ever be fancy. “Stacey said she’d kick me clean to the Alabama state line if I didn’t take her to Homecoming, so you have to do it for me. The money’s good, real good. We both know you need it.”
It was the God’s honest truth. My piece of junk Taurus had crapped the bed halfway between Mount Juliet and Hohenwald. As far I as I knew it was still pushed off the side of the road into a bunch of briar bushes, the sexy primer paint job keeping it camouflaged. I couldn’t afford to pay for a new engine or the tow, or the ticket I’d get if I didn’t claim it before the highway patrol did.
“Okay.” I always gave into Joe. That’s the part of me being the younger brother that no one in my family ever talks about, my need to please him, like some kind of ugly ass mongrel puppy.
That was how I ended up at the Civic Auditorium, one hour before midnight, on All Hallow's Eve.
A girl sat on a stool by the backstage door. Her hair was as red as a ripe strawberry. On the bottom half. The top half was pitch black. I couldn’t stop staring at it, wondering how the line between the two colors stayed so straight and even. Maybe it was a wig. I took a step closer. She smelled like caramel apples.
“Can I help you, sugar?” She didn’t look up from the pile of tickets she was ripping from a big roll. Just kept dropping them into a bucket in her lap.
“I’m here for the job? My brother Joe was supposed to … but he had to … he had some stuff come up.”
Still ripping tickets, she raised her eyes, appraising my boots, jeans and flannel shirt, top to bottom. Or maybe she was appraising what was underneath. Her irises didn’t look human, more like that of a cat. I backed up a little. The caramel apple smell followed. “You twenty-one?”
I took another step back, putting a few feet between us. "Yes."
Lie. The whisper sounded inside my brain.
Her lips were the same color as her hair. The black part. “Are you sure?”
“I assume you have identification to prove that?” For her demented appearance she sure managed to sound businesslike.
“I didn’t bring my wallet … I didn’t drive. I got dropped off.” I’d talked my grandpa out of his Dodge Ram for the night, but I’d parked a block away because the engine made more noise than a woodchipper.
She stopped tearing the tickets and stood up from her stool, leaning over to put the bucket on the ground. I tried not to swallow my tongue. She was very … girl.
“Why are you lyin’ to me, Jake?”
I blinked. When I opened my eyes she was standing in front of me, all curves and red heat. “H - how did you get over here so fast?” I stuttered.
“Why are you lyin’ to save your sorry brother’s behind?”
I said the first thing that came to mind. “Low self-esteem?”
“That won’t be a problem after tonight, Jake.” The black lips, shiny instead of matte, parted in a smile. “Not after tonight.”
I tried to remember if I’d told her my name, but only for a second. Right there in the alley, she undid the first three buttons of my shirt and pressed her mouth against my bare skin, just above my heart.
Then she took me by the hand and led me through the backstage door.