BALLARDVALE BLUES - DAY ONE

At six in the afternoon, moaning brakes let out a long, squealing sigh, prohibiting Sam Kern from slipping back into his dream world. Aside from a brief stop, his lanky frame had been locked in the same position for hours, so extending his body long enough to stumble off one bus and onto another was met with resistance. The June sun cast long shadows into an oppressively hot evening, and after taking the regional bus line a few towns over from Amherst, he was forced to vacate in Ballardvale and leave the relief of air conditioning behind to begin the thirty-minute walk back to his parents’ house. He hadn’t bothered informing anyone he was nearly home. A nice, quiet walk was the catharsis he needed after several hours of being squished between a window and another human. He grabbed a duffle bag and before looping it over his shoulder, removed a pack of Marlboros and stuck one between his teeth. He’d have to enjoy the satisfying taste of bitter tar now; he certainly couldn’t do it later.

Sam let his grey eyes run over rich, green trees with deep and twisted roots that weren’t budging. He had an animal attraction to the clean lines of New York, but had learned to love the foundation that time had built into the countryside of Western Massachusetts. The farther along he went, the more fanned out the houses were. Sam inhaled deeply once more, allowing the tobacco to lick the back of his throat. He let green, sun-soaked fields pass him on his left until a white garrison colonial with chipping paint and a gravel driveway stood before him, his parents’ house. It sat on a plot of land that was big enough to get lost in if you went back far enough. The garage to the left of the house had a matching paint job.

Sam climbed the three small stone stairs, slightly covered in the beginnings of moss, and crouched down with the remainder of the cigarette between his fingers. Snubbing it out on the side, he chucked the remnants into an empty garbage can and then popped an Altoid in his mouth, hoping to mask the stench. He pulled open a squeaky door but wasn’t hit with the wave of family members he’d expected and was almost let down. Almost. “Hello?” He looked from the gleaming granite counters and cherry cabinets of a newly renovated kitchen that stood to his left, to the formal and unusable living room on his right. So far, the house was seemingly empty.

“Sam?” His sister’s voice traveled downstairs.

He looked up and saw her standing on the landing, outfitted in a uniform of skinny jeans and a BU tank, chewing on Twizzlers. “Don’t rush down to welcome me or anything now,” he said as he walked up. “Where’re Mom and Dad?”

“Ehhh, dunno, they’re out,” she said as she gave him as much of a tight hug as she could muster. She was a head shorter than him and just as wiry, but his small build made it easy to get her arms around him. “Why didn’t you call if you were here? Someone would’ve come and gotten you.”  Sam was so weird.

“I just felt like a walk.”

“An extra bus ride and a walk?”

“Hey, you didn’t have to sit all squished up for six hours. You would’ve wanted a walk too.”

“Mff… doubt it,” she said backing into her room.

Sam started towards his as well, “Of course not, Princess,” he narrowly dodged a projectile object she chucked his way, “way to waste a Twizzler.”

“Whatever!” Kate went back in her room and looked around at all her scattered belongings. She wasn’t much for organization, especially not when she’d be leaving again soon enough. She plopped down on her bed and had to shift slightly to dislodge a hairbrush from her back. Throwing it to one side, it landed on the floor in front of her suitcases. They had been opened, as she’d already been home for a week. Random shirts and pairs of pants spilled out of them.

 

Kate had spent most days of her summer vacation bored, and this one was no exception; she pulled out her phone, What’re you doing now?

Working, what else would I be doing? The text shot back at her.

Kate let her phone-holding hand flop to one side and turned her head toward the door, “Hey, you wanna go down to the diner?”

“Is Addie working?”

“Yeah, what else would she be doing?”

“I haven’t unpacked anything,” his voice got closer.

“So what?”

“I guess compared to your sty, my room looks palatial.” He reappeared in her door, casting a disapproving gaze around.

“I’ve been here a week; stuff piles up.” She stuck her hands in light brown hair and scrunched it up into a wad on top of her head.

“And I’ll be here for a week, but my room won’t look like this.” His lip curled as his eyes fell on several empty glasses sitting on her dresser. “God, why do you even have these? Are you stock piling them?”

“What? They’re glasses, they only had water in them.” Kate scrunched an elastic around the ball of hair, forming a messy bun.

“Yeah? Well this,” he motioned around her whole room, “isn’t happening while you’re in town looking for your own place.”

“Are you coming to see Addie or not?” She bristled at him.

“Testy much?”

She brushed him off, “Are you coming?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming.” Sam thumped down the stairs.

She slipped on brown booties, grabbed the car keys her mom had left on the hallway table, and thundered down after him. The siblings walked outside together into a cloud of humidity. “You sound just like dad when you walk, you know.”

“…because we’re related?” Sam’s scrawny arms pulled up the door to the garage with difficulty.

“Just saying.” Musty garage air invaded her nostrils and made her gag. Slinking around a red ‘69 Camaro and pulling up the other door, she revealed to him the used Camry, “This is a little more my speed. Unfortunately.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to just walk? It’s only a half hour.”

“Positive, it’s basically already dark.” She couldn’t grasp his obsession with walking.

“You’re going to be a treat in a city, let me tell you.”

“I’ll be fine in a city.”

“You drive everywhere. You’d rather drive than walk five minutes.” He pulled down the Camaro side door.

Kate slithered into the driver’s side seat. Her mom always parked too close to the wall of the garage. “Well, I had to go where med school took me.”

She slammed the car into reverse out of the garage and sped down the rocky driveway, turning onto their street. Slowing down to head over a bigger bump in the road, “I don’t get why they can’t take that tree out.  It’s messing up the pavement.”

“On second thought, maybe you’ll do better than I thought.”

“Ha! Maybe.” She turned on the main street and wove around the back of a CVS to park the car. The siblings got out and headed towards an old storefront with large windows. Kate pushed her weight up against the glass door and fell through into the relief of air conditioning. She walked up to the counter and sat down, Sam following suit. Addie must’ve been at the back since the front was devoid of people. She leaned over peeling Formica and tried to peer through a grease-clogged, yellow curtain separating the front from the kitchen and the rest of the back.

“Hey!” she hollered through the worn old fabric, ignoring the other patrons. “Well, I know she’s back there,” she turned to Sam. Kate knew she never left anyway.

“What?” came back at Kate. She tried to angle her head so she could see through the skinny window that served as a place for food to be delivered from kitchen to dining area. Nothing appeared there, but fraying, blue Converses covered in grease came ambling towards them from beneath the curtain. “I just got you a refill, Bruce; you couldn’t’ve already gone through it all,” a dark brown, curly-haired Addie said as she came through the doorway holding a book. Kate and Sam watched her blow past them towards a portly old man.

“Wasn’t me,” he grunted.

“Yeah Spacey, it was me,” Kate laughed. Addie’s cognizance of the things taking place around her seemed to vary from minute to minute.

“Oh! Hey,” she smiled, seeing Kate, “and Sam?” Surprise washed over her face. “I didn’t realize you were even coming home.”

That was such a typical Sam move. “Yeah, he likes to sneak in and out, might have to actually talk to someone if he doesn’t.”

“Just because I walked home from the bus doesn’t mean I don’t like to talk to people.”

Kate pointed her thumb over at her brother, “Crazy here; walked all the way home from the bus.”

“I can’t wait to see you walk all over the city when you move,” he shot back.

“Yeah, a city where I only have the choice to walk, not here where I can get everywhere in a matter of seconds by picking up the phone…”

Addie dropped her paperback on the counter and hitched up her jeans. Her clothes tended to fit just a little too big all the time. She leaned over to balance her head on her hands to watch the brother and sister sitting in front of her snarl playfully away at each other. It was a dynamic Addie couldn’t quite ever understand. She had only parents to snarl at. Though silently, and also less playfully. “So why’d you come back?” she asked, hastily adding a “…not that I’m complaining.”

“For this one’s grad party,” Sam nodded at Kate.

“Oh, shucks,” Kate feigned appreciation.

 

“Also, I haven’t been around in a while.”

 

“That’s true, you never come home,” Addie looked out the window at the ever-darkening main road, “not there’s much to come home to anyway. It’s dead here as always. Actually, soon it’ll be even deader.”

“How do you figure?”
 

“Well, you’re gonna go back to the city, and then Kate’s going with you in a little while.”

 

“It’ll still be about a month, Ad,” Kate said diffusively.

 

“A month you’d better spend looking for an apartment to live in, by the way,” Sam interjected.

 

“My place is small.”

“You have an entire one bedroom to yourself-”

 

“And it would be nice to keep it that way-”

 

“Well Mom and Dad said you had to take me-”

 

As they continued on, Addie stared at the main road, watching cars swish up and down, in a trance. It was nice to have them both back and arguing; their incessant bickering broke the deafening quiet. 

 

Multiple snaps in her ear were what ultimately broke Sam and Kate’s rumblings and brought her back. “What are you doing? Napping? Get back to work!” Her mother could always bring her back to reality. “Addie, there are customers in here, you know money doesn’t just magically appear. The customers come and you get them what they need.” Her mother’s brown walnut eyes matched hers, as did her olive complexion. The prickly woman motioned her hand around. “Have you even checked to see if Bruce needed more iced tea?”

 

“I just gave him some.” Addie’s curly hair mirrored her mom’s. Though Addie’s was genetic, her mother’s was from constant, grating stress and anxiety.
 

“You can’t just be staring at things constantly. You need to be giving people like Bruce their iced teas or coffees or whatever they came in here for.”

 

Addie moved away from the counter and picked up the pitcher, moving towards Bruce and filling his glass with an inch more of the light brown liquid. “Thanks,” is what he managed to mumble, “I didn’t need this.”

 

Addie turned to face the back wall and return the pitcher. Well tell that to her. Her thoughts rumbled through her brain.

 

“…Well, when are you going to move back?” Her mother’s voice came back into the foreground, clearly directed at Sam.

 

Addie returned to her spot, never. She paired the thought with an eye roll.

 

“I’m pretty happy in New York. I’ve got a good job.”

 

“You live on the edge of nowhere,” Kate shot out.

 

He crooked his head to the side, “I can’t wait until you come back with me and try to find a place in the middle of somewhere without requesting that Mom and Dad mortgage the house.”

 

“Yes! Well, that’s what I don’t understand, Sam,” Addie’s mother interjected. “You’re so nice and New York is so expensive.” She said it as though those two things in any way correlated.

 

“You know, that’s just where life is right now,” he shrugged at her.

 

“Well, at least you’ll have your sister near you soon, so you’ll be less alone.”

 

“I will certainly be less alone,” he said pressing his thin lips into a line. Addie snorted, and her mother plowed on.

 

“Yes, exactly. I’m sure your parents will miss having both of you around. Kate, you can come back here to be a doctor like your dad when you’re done.” She smiled down at the siblings.

Addie pulled out her phone and laid it down on the counter; it had been buzzing persistently in her pocket.

 

Her mother’s head snapped around as though on radar for the device. “What are you doing with that thing?”

 

“What? I dunno, checking messages and stuff?”
 

“No, you’re not, you’re working.” Her voice snapped back to its normal tone. “I’m also working, and I’ll be in the back. It was nice to see you two.” She smiled back at them and retreated behind the curtain.

 

Addie let out a sigh; it ended with a giggle.

 

“Why’re you laughing?” Kate asked, a look of derision on her face.

“Can you believe that? Ah, she loves you two.”

 

“Well, I mean look at us,” said Sam, “what isn’t to love here, really?”

 

“This is the rest of my life,” Addie sighed and scrolled through her Facebook.

 

“Well, it doesn’t have to be-” Kate began.

 

“Oh, did I mention you just missed Danny?” Addie looked up briefly.

 

“Aren’t you finished with college?” Sam continued the protest.

 

“Danny was in?”

 

“Yeah,” Addie replied, “and almost finished,” she said to Sam.

 

“So just look for a job in anything,” he persisted.

 

“I haven’t even seen him that much since I’ve been home,” Kate interjected.

 

“Jobs?” Addie rolled her eyes. “That’s cute, we’re in Ballardvale, not really a booming metropolis.”

 

“There’s this thing we have now, it’s like magic. We call it the Internet.”

 

“And you’ve only been home for a week. What do you want?” Addie angled her gaze back

towards Kate.

 

“… really easy to use. You can even do something wild and look outside of Ballardvale…” Sam words were lost though.

 

“I don’t know,” Kate said, “he’s never around when I come home for break anymore or anything. Thought he would be since I’m home from college for like a month and a half before I head away again for forever.”

 

“He was here with Jess earlier, they said something about going out later.”

 

“Jessica Sukkel? Are you going?”
 

Sam let out a sigh, “I give up.”

 

“Yeah,” Addie shrugged, “and probably not. I’ve got stuff to do.”

 

“What stuff?” Kate challenged her.

 

“Like homework,” Addie was defensive. “I’m almost done with my last class.”

 

“Semester ended in May.”

 

“I know, I’m doing a separate session, and I’ve only got a week left. It’s one of those accelerated online ones. On American lit.”

 

“Well, have fun with that.”

 

“You know, Danny’s still around. He’s at the garage.”

 

“Oh, well, I’ll just catch him later. We texted earlier anyway.”

 

“Why?” Addie moved backward towards the curtains. “I’ll just go grab him.”

 

“It’s really fine.”

 

“He never does anything over there anyway during the closing shift, he just sits on his ass and pretends to work,” Addie called from the kitchen as she walked straight back. There were greasy stoves and ovens her dad worked over and a freezer to the left, though at the moment she could see his back along with her mother’s crouched over something in the office to her right. She slightly tip-toed, cautious of leaving her post as it was sure to irritate them. She stuck her head out the back door that led to a cobbled ally they shared with the adjacent business, Henry’s Garage. The back door was open and she could see another mechanic, Johnny, slumped up against a dirty cement wall that had been smeared with grease stains from various uniforms over the years. “Hey!” Addie whisper-shouted, still fearful of alerting her parents, “Hey Johnny!” Luckily, it carried and Johnny blew some smoke, hacking away in the process, to look in her direction.

 

“What’s up, Addie?” he took a drag off his cigarette.

 

“Can you get Danny?”

 

“I guess, he’s in the middle of working though.”

 

“Yeah right, it’s like 7:30, he’s probably just gonna keep staring at Sports Center or whatever for another half hour.”

 

“Boss won’t like it if he leaves.”

“Henry went home. You’re the boss, so just go get him.”

 

Johnny hacked up some phlegm and spat it out. He considered the remaining bit of the cigarette he hadn’t finished and then threw to the side. “Ehh.” He stepped on the burning cigarette and meandered inside. Johnny intrigued Addie; he was a few years older and his skin had a leathery roughness about it, maybe from the sun and smoke, and lack of sleep. Enough early mornings for her and those dark circles that appeared under her eyes might not wear away by the afternoon.  Johnny reemerged with Danny and he fell back against the wall so he could begin smoking a new cigarette.

 

“Seeing me once a day wasn’t enough for you?” Danny had a mischievous grin that boasted a dimple; she wasn’t sure if it was on purpose or if his face just grew that way.

 

“Dream on,” she snorted. “Kate’s here. Come say ‘hey.’ Not like you’re doing anything anyway.”

 

“I’m at work.” He stuck his hand in unruly dishwasher blonde hair and scratched at his scalp for a

bit.

 

Addie rolled her eyes; she stepped back into the kitchen and opened the door a little wider for Danny to walk in.

 

“Well, I am,” he announced though crossing the threshold anyway.

 

“SHH!” she spat at him. “I’m not exactly supposed to leave the front!”

 

Danny flashed a grin at her. “You’re such a wimp with them.”

 

“Uh yeah, don’t even. You don’t know what it’s like to have parents with rage issu-” She stopped for a minute, looking regretful.

 

He couldn’t help but laugh as her head whipped around while she slinked across the tiled kitchen and to the safety of the front counter. Danny, on the other hand, tromped towards the same destination without concern, glancing once as her parents were seated at a desk with their backs to them, completely unaware.

 

Once he crossed into the front, there was Kate, his long lost friend he kept meaning to meet up with and kept losing track of time to do so. “Hey there.” It was nice to see her. She still looked the same to him as when they had met in first grade.

 

“I was wondering when I’d actually manage to see you!” She stood up as he rounded the corner of the counter, following Addie, who was now running towards two teenagers who were ready and waiting to have their order taken.

 

“You’re seeing me now.” Despite being a tad on the stalky side, he managed to give her a big bear hug, which she warmly returned. People seemed to like those. “And Sam, didn’t even mention you were coming to town.”

 

“I’m here for a week, really only told her and my parents.”

 

“Nice, it’s probably good to be back here. Definitely more mellow, right?”

 

“It’s definitely quieter.”

 

“So what’ve you been up to?” Kate asked.

 

“The usual. Just working at Henry’s and hanging around here at night.”

 

“Here?”

 

“I mean not here here.” He waved his arms around as Addie whizzed past him to yell something to her dad in the back about burgers. “Charlie’s mostly. It’s just somewhere to go after work. And Jess is there, so free boozing for me.” he laughed. “Freeish, I mean.”

 

“Yeah, that’s cool.” Her voice trailed off.

 

“You gonna come by later, actually?” he asked. “Addie was invited, but I guess she’s too busy to come.” He looked back at her as she raised an eyebrow at him. 

 

“Well, I can’t,” answered Sam, “my parents would probably actually kill me if I didn’t say hey to them.”

 

“You came all the way back here and you haven’t even seen them? Hoof, I’d be in trouble with my mom if I pulled that shit.”

 

“That would be Sam then, wouldn’t it?” Kate said. “Anyway, I’m gonna hang out with this kid tonight, so I’ll probably just head home.” 

 

“Yeah…” Sam glanced at his sister and joined her, standing up, “we’ll probably just head off.”

 

“Bummer, I should probably be back at the garage too, but I’ll catch you later Kate, tomorrow or something?”

 

“Sounds good.” She started walking to the door with Sam. “I’ll see you later.” And they were gone.

 

“Too bad they didn’t want to come,” Danny said looking back at Addie.

 

“They probably wanna hang out though. Haven’t seen each other in a while.

 

“Isn’t she moving back with him in a month or something?”

 

Addie let a laugh escape. “Yeah. Can you imagine those two actually living together while she hunts a place down? That’ll be good. I wish I’d be there to witness it.”

 

“I know, right.” He started to walk back around the corner.

 

“What’re you kidding me?”

 

“What?”

 

“Front! Do you want me to get shanked? My dad’s back there and you’d probably get arrested anyway for going through there like that.”

 

“Arrested?” She was so ridiculous.

 

“Yeah, you’re all dirty and covered in car crap. Aren’t there health people who police that stuff?

You’d probably give someone a disease or something if you went near their food like that.”

 

“Oh well, that’s your fault then since you brought me back there in the first place.”  He walked towards the front door and opened it.

 

“Bye, Danny.”

 

“Just think, you probably put all the lives in Ballardvale at risk.”

 

“BYE!”

 

Danny pressed his back up against cool glass and walked backward through the door. He strolled down the sidewalk; no point in running back to the garage now, he was fried for the day. Even Henry knew that the last half hour or so was meant to be open just in case a customer wandered in, and no one ever did. He made his way down Main and turned into the shared alley. The cobblestones that had been put down years before were settling unevenly into the land so it was easy to end up tripping. He found his way to the back door, leaving the heat behind and welcoming the stale air of the garage. The little office that was off to the right front corner space was cramped but cool.

 

“Back just in time to leave?”

 

Danny ignored this and opened one of the four small lockers they kept their junk in. “What are you up to tonight?”

 

“Eh, nothing much, probably going to visit my sister and then head out after in Johnston.”

 

“Johnston?”

 

“Yeah, she lives there and I have a few buddies that moved there after high school.”

 

“Ah, gotcha,” Danny pulled off his oil stained work shirt and grabbed a clean one. “Well, I was headed down to Charlie’s if you wanted to come, but I guess not.”

“Way to branch out.”

He poked his head through a clean shirt. “I’m doing the beer a day thing.”

Johnny looked over. “Beer a day?”

 

“Yeah, every day for a month you drink a different, special beer.”

 

“What happens after a month of special beer?”

 

“You get a mug with your name engraved on it.” He was feeling pretty into that last bit.

 

Johnny raised his eyebrows at him, “That sounds like it’s gonna be terrible. I mean most likely.”

 

“There’s nothing terrible about a beer mug with your name engraved in it.”

 

“Enjoy drinking shit beer for a month.”

 

“Thanks.” Danny grabbed a pair of jeans and headed into the bathroom off the office. He

changed those too and reemerged. “Gotta go drink my shitty beer now. Bye.” He threw his dirty clothes back in the locker and headed to the door.

 

“See ya,” Johnny called out, still staring at the TV.

 

The June heat wasn’t much better than the stifling garage, but at least it was fresher. Danny retraced his steps through the alleyway and up past the diner; he could see Addie sitting behind the counter while her father said something to her. She was nodding but looking out the window and into another universe.  Danny grinned and kept walking. Addie had always kept him amused, even from when they met as little kids. Back then, she had just been a casual daydreamer; now she was a full on professional. He walked a few more blocks down the main street and found his way into Charlie’s. He crossed the dark, worn hardwood to a bar that matched in color and chose a stool.

 

“Hey man, what’s up?” Danny heard a voice from behind him.

 

Turning to the left, he saw the tall, lanky shape of Logan Feld, “Hey Logan, how’s it going? Been a while.”

 

“Yeah man, I was away with my folks. Still getting away with the whole family vacation thing.” Logan was the pizza guy. He still lived at home and managed an impressive amount of mooching.

 

“Oh yeah? Where’d you go?”

 

“Florida, it’s pretty sweet. Made me wish I could live there, but like in Tampa or something. We were more in the Ft. Lauderdale area.”

 

“Whatever guy. Florida’s solid. Went down to Miami a few years back.”

 

“Miami? Bet that’s sweet.”

 

“Yeah, and the shit you can get down there. Way better than what’s up here,” Danny grinned.

 

“I bet, man; wish I’d been able to get ahold of some of that. Had to bring it myself. Snuck it in through the airport and everything. The trick is the tin foil.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Totally.”

 

Danny wasn’t sure that was quite right. Logan tended to get a little into his theories. They were usually wrong and he was usually lucky. “Sweet.”

 

“What’s sweet?”

 

Danny turned his gaze to see a girl in black shorts and a tight black t-shirt with the Charlie’s logo on it leaning up against the bar. She had piled yellowing blonde hair into a bun on top of her head.

 

“Logan’s got a fool proof way to sneak his shit onto a plane.”

 

“Really?” A smile played across Jessica’s lips.

 

“Totally. You just need tin foil.”

 

“Haven’t heard that one before.”

 

“No? Huh, weird.” Logan looked from Jessica to Danny. “Anyway, I’m heading to a party a few blocks from here after if you wanna come. You can come too if you feel like it,” he shot over to Jessica.

 

“I’m off in a couple hours.” Jessica said, though looking at Danny. She figured she’d go if Danny went. Logan Feld wasn’t in her top ten favorite people from high school. Danny happened to be nice and hung around with whomever these days.

 

“Sweet, yeah maybe.”

 

“Cool, see you later then.” Logan ambled back on over to the corner his friends were huddled in. One thing she definitely liked about Logan was the steady stream of weed he sent her way.

 

“So that’s something to do later, I guess.” Danny hunched, his forearms resting on the scratched wood.

 

“It is something to do.” Jess replied. “So what do you want?”

 

“You know.”

 

“What?” She questioned, and then contorted her face into a cringe. “You’re really doing the beer a day thing?”

 

“Hell yeah! You can’t put a price on an engraved beer mug.”

 

“Ewww! Yes you can, and it’s like forty bucks or something.”

 

“Just get me the beer.”

 

“Fine, “but don’t say I didn’t warn you.” She turned back and faced the tap holding today’s rancid serving. Every summer, Charlie, the big guy, would run this promo selling off at a higher price whatever he bought with a stupid mug as the prize. Most people made it halfway through before their livers crapped out on them and forfeited the coveted mug. She turned back and plunked the beer in front of Danny; it looked like piss.

 

“Oh see, it’s the color of… Sunshine….”

 

“Yeah, sunshine.” Jessica grabbed a rag and wiped up the little bit of spillage. “I gotta get

working, I’ll come back. Try not to puke.”

And she was off. She’d been working at the bar since she’d gotten back from college. She had the rest of her life to do something boring with her elementary ed degree; this was fun. The bar was a loud, active place and drunks, generally at least, were happy.  She leaned over the bar and flashed a smile at the next customer. They smiled back, and she delivered three shots of jaeger in no time. They threw down a hefty tip and pushed one of the shots toward her, so she shrugged and took it with them. One thing college had definitely been good for was teaching her how to booze, and despite her smaller frame, she could throw them back for days.

 

After an hour, the bar was getting a little more crowded. She snuck back over to Danny, who was talking to another Ballardvale High School grad, Ben Gunning; she hadn’t seen him in a while.

 

“How’s it going?” She leaned back over the bar.

 

“Not as good as it was for you,” Danny said, motioning to the three-shot guys.

 

“Very funny.” She locked eyes with Ben. “And can I get you anything?”

 

“I’m good,” he motioned with his beer. “Are you gonna be at that party later?”

 

“I get off in a half hour if that works,” though it was again directed more towards Danny.

 

“Definitely works.”

 

“Nice.” She returned to the other end of the bar, not really excited about the party. Jessica would rather have stayed at Charlie’s to keep boozing after her shift and hanging out with Danny. At parties everything was free at least, and if Logan was around, the weed would be too.

 

Her shift ended at midnight, and she found herself back at the end of the bar with Danny and Ben counting through her tips. It hadn’t been a bad night at all. She wondered if she could ever make that much money doing something else.

 

“You good to go?” Danny asked.

 

Jessica laughed; some of those shots were starting to catch up with her. She folded her bills in half and followed Danny and Ben outside. Walking with a buzz wasn’t her favorite. “Hey, want me to drive? My car’s out back.”

 

“It isn’t even far from here,” Ben said. He and Danny kept walking.

 

She looked down at her restaurant-approved-no-slip shoes. “Yeah, that works.” She didn’t want to be too disagreeable. “So what were you up to today?”

 

“Not much, worked a bunch. Grabbed lunch from Addie.”

 

“What’s up with Addie?”

 

“It’s always the same; she lives upstairs, works downstairs. I caught her spacing out when her dad was talking to her on my way over. It’s funny as hell.”

 

“Uh, could you blame her? She, like, needs to leave home. I just couldn’t go back after I graduated.” Once she had left home, she had always known she wasn’t going back. “And her mom is such a nag.”

 

“You never know,” Ben said, “maybe she’ll move out eventually.”

His voice reminded Jessica of his presence. “Yeah, but you don’t know Addie, she never even left when she went to school or anything.”

 

“I guess,” Danny threw in. “I think this is pretty much it.”

 

The noise of music erupting from one half of a duplex slowly got louder, and she saw where they were heading. They cut across the grass and walked through the front door.

 

“Dannnnnny!” the greeting shot their way, “what is up Danny, Ben? Hey Jess, glad you came.” A bleary eyed Logan came towards them. “You wanna drink or anything man?” He directed the question to no one in particular.

 

“Yeah,” Ben said. “Through there?” He walked off before Logan even answered.

 

“Thanks guy,” Danny said and followed suit.

 

Jessica would’ve joined them, but she had a routine with Logan and she needed to grease the wheels for later. “Hey Logan.” Smile on overdrive, as it had to be. “So what’re you up to right now?”

 

“You know, just the usual.” He leaned on one side of a wide doorway, red cup in hand.

 

“Well, do you wanna hang a little later? I’m in a pretty mellow mood.”

 

“You know me, I’m always mellow.”

 

“Sweet.” She walked away toward the kitchen. Logan would get very drunk, then he’d smoke her out; it was his only redeeming quality. When she got to the kitchen, Ben and Danny were standing there under a fluorescent light. A yellow shade was cast through the kitchen, giving everyone undertones of sickliness. Worse than that, though, was the thing currently attaching itself to Danny.

He already had his arm around the waist of an emaciated blonde twenty-something. At least I always remember to do my roots.

 

“Jess, here,” Danny handed her a Solo cup. It was a reddish-pink and smelled like rubbing alcohol, so it was most likely vodka. She gulped it. “Thanks, what is it?”
“I made it,” blondie said cheerfully. “I brought the whipped cream flavored vodka. I love it.”

“Thanks, it’s awesome.” Jessica replied. Ballardvale wasn’t that huge, but Danny always managed to find a different someone to spend his nights with. She threw back the mixture of cheap alcohol and syrupy flavonoids; the faster that went down, the quicker she could move on to something else.

 

“Danny, let’s do beirut.” She watched as they scampered off into the next room, never losing contact with each other. Jessica was left with the option of falling all over Ben for the remainder of the night, until she needed Logan.

 

“Shots then?”

 

“What, with more of this shit?” Jessica pointed to the whipped cream vodka.

 

Her face must have looked absolutely hopeless because he rolled his eyes at her, “Kidding.”

 

“Fine.” She resigned herself to boozing with Ben for real, and threw back her preferred Jaeger.

 

One shot, two shot, three… Nope. No three shot.  Drinking at work had been a good start and Danny’s new-found friend had proven to be a little more adept at mixing than she had initially given her credit for. This party was a bust, people were already leaving, and Jessica was disappointed to see Danny’s head up his ass. She invited Ben to join in on a few more shots, which he obliged. She, however, continued to spit the majority of them into her chaser and watched as Ben continued to look greyer. He was leaning against the back counter. Well, at least he’s close to a sink. As he seemed preoccupied with standing, she exited the kitchen area and went to go find Logan, but he was nowhere to be found. Fuck this. I’m going home. She made her way back to the front door.

 

Alcohol had been steadily lacing itself through her veins all night. She could hear giggling outside, or was it in her head? So she laughed a bit herself. Actually, she laughed a lot. The night had worn on, and a cool breeze deflected off her face. A big sigh helped her breathe cool, clear air, making it even easier to laugh.

 

“What’re you laughing at?” the loopy, lumbering Logan called out.

 

“Logan!” She whirled around and continued laughing, “I’ve been looking for you; I’m leaving.”

 

“Oh. Well, you still wanna mellow out?”

 

She lifted her chin up to see the sky and swore her brain was rolling back in her skull. “Yes Logan, yes I do.”

 

“Sweet,” he leaned back against the side of the house and he held out a blunt.

She made her way back over to them and participated in a few rounds. “Thanks,” she felt choppy smoke pass in and out of her throat. It curled inside her lungs and stung her. “I have to keep going now though. I’m going. Going home.”

 

“OK, take it easy then.”

 

Jessica turned and walked away over the grass. It wouldn’t be long until she reached her apartment; she loved it there. It was downtown, Gulch-side of course.  There was no sense living anywhere else in Ballardvale. She just needed to retrace her steps back toward Charlie’s. It wasn’t that far. Just throw one foot in front of the other and keep going.  The problem was more in that she had those stupid restaurant-approved shoes on. One foot in front of the other hurt a whole lot right now. And there were cracks. Cracks in the pavement, all over the damn place. She put one more foot in front and that stupid restaurant-approved shoe landed in one of those cracks. Down she went. Luckily, her knee broke her fall. “Shit.” She fell back on her ass and looked down at her shoes. One came off and then the other. Jessica sat there for a minute and looked down at her now freed-up feet. One of her toenails had been continually pressed into her foot with each step she took; the result was a bit bloody. She pushed herself back onto those feet and forced herself to trudge the rest of the way home. Becca, her roommate, was still out, somewhere. She stripped off her clothes, depositing them on the floor one by one on the way to her bed and fell into the welcoming squishiness of her mattress. The world was rotating right around her, or maybe it was just the ceiling. She closed her eyes to make the spinning stop. It didn’t work, but opening them again was too much effort. The lights were out, her eyes were shut, her brain was off.