The emptiness is threatening to suffocate me.
My chores are finished before noon. The only thing on TV is the stupid news. Q-FM is playing awful “Hometown Rock” that makes my teeth ache and every other radio station on the dial is filled with garbled static or commercial jabber. Every song in my record collection seems to echo with Cassie’s laughter. I can see her spinning in circles to “Rhiannon,” or singing “Hotel California” into my hairbrush, or demonstrating how to “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty.”
My skin feels like it wants to crawl right off my body and run out the front door, so I switch off everything and sneak downstairs to raid the kitchen but there’s nothing to eat in this house, not even one single bottle of cold Tab in the fridge. At least that gives me an excuse to walk over to the Pit Stop with three dollars I found in Anita’s jeans—one of the few perks of being her laundry slave.
There’s an unpleasant surprise waiting for me when I get back home. Deputy Wayne Todd is sitting on our wooden picnic table, glass of ice water in his left hand, chatting away with the Mother Monster. He looks comfortable, like he’s planning on hanging out for a while.
Damn! Why can’t he just forget I exist?
For her part, Anita is lounging in her favorite lawn chair all slicked up with baby oil and wearing her itty bitty white bikini. Hair tucked into a white turban, she’s stretched out on one side like a Coppertone model. Something about the scene makes me wonder if she knew we were going to get a visit from a six-foot-something law man today.
“There’s my dumpling,” she says, all saccharine sweet.
Dumpling? Translation: There’s the lumpy fat thing that lives here.
To emphasize her point, she looks at the bag of Buckeye potato chips in my hand and spikes one pencil-thin eyebrow at me. I hold up a case of sweating Tab bottles with my other hand.
“Went to get some pop. We were totally out.”
Translation: You drank all the Tab. Fry in baby oil and die.
I wait, not looking at the Deputy, even though the clink of ice in his glass makes my eyes itch to peek over in that direction. Silence.
“Wayne was just telling me all the latest news.”
They are both staring at me, but Cassie’s coaching kicks in. Never offer anything. Always let them talk first.
Finally, the deputy breaks the stand-off. “Only news is there’s no news.” He waves his glass and shrugs casually, but his eyes are searching my face. “You have any news, Erika?”
I wave my bag of chips and shrug back at him, imitating his exact gesture.
Oily skin slithers restlessly against the plastic lawn chair. “Erika.”
Translation: I’ll slice you into shreds if you don’t behave.
I lock my eyes on the tip of Deputy Todd’s nose. “No, sir, no news.”
“All right. Relax.” He wiggles his glass toward Anita. “No need to get intense. This isn’t an official visit.”
“Then I can go now, right?”
Anita nods once, but the Deputy holds up a hand like he’s directing traffic.
“Hold on there just a minute. I come in peace. No more Cassie questions, I promise.” He flashes the peace sign. “You and I seem to have gotten off to a bad start. Let’s try again.”
I stare at his nose and keep my lips pressed together.
“You heard about this new movie; I think it’s called Space Wars?”
He doesn’t bother to wait for a response, just keeps babbling on like we’re good buddies. “Time Magazine called it ‘The Movie of the Year.’ Friend of mine with LAPD says every teenager in the city has been lined up to see this movie over and over for weeks. Says it’s the damndest thing he’s ever seen…and that’s from a guy who patrolled West Hollywood for over ten years.”
All I hear is LAPD. As in the Los Angeles Police Department. As in the people to call if you want to track down a runaway … in Hollywood. Does he know something? Or is he fishing?
Words are still flowing out of his lips, but I can’t follow any of it. When he finally shuts up, Anita makes nicey noises before poking one of her talons into my hip.
I nod, even though I have no idea what I’m agreeing to. Deputy Todd flashes all of his teeth at me and says, “Great. I’ll pick you two up at five on Saturday.”
Oh, no! Did I just agree to go see some weirdo space movie with the Mother Monster and the hairy interrogator who is ruining my life?
Cassie’s voice seems to echo around me as I stumble back to the house.
We are all just prisoners here of our own device.
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