Somewhere Warm, Like Florida
by Mitzi McMahon
Lily grabs a fistful of underwear and pushes them into the over-stuffed duffel bag. She's wearing her favorite jean skirt—faded with frayed edges—and a red, tissue-weight T-shirt with DELICIOUS stamped in glittery letters across her chest. She feels hot and sexy and ready to get on with her life, a life that doesn't include being here. She saunters to the window and fires up the last half of a joint. When it gets down to nothing, she sticks her arm out the window and rubs the roach against the brick. Tiny bits of paper and ash flutter to the ground two stories below. She slings the duffel bag over her shoulder and runs her eyes around her room: a poster of Ft. Lauderdale's white beaches; lime green fuzzy throw pillows; Miller High Life labels, peeled from bottles and pressed flat, stacked on the bookshelf. On the corner of the dresser, curled around a candle, is the beaded bracelet Lily's mother gave her on her 12th birthday, her golden birthday. She fingers the smooth beads, lingering, and then dismisses it with a shrug. She thinks about taking a few of the framed pictures of her and Dylan but doesn't. Why bother with photos when the real thing will be living and breathing right beside her? The idea of it, the reality, makes her stomach hitch. Dylan's a drummer, already out of high school and in an apartment on Washington. She fell for him the first time she saw him playing at Parkway, a club on State. They've been together five months and in that time she's learned more than she ever thought possible about the art of drumming. Dylan routinely demonstrates Five Stroke Rolls and Double Ratamacues for Lily. What makes her wet, though, are the Diddles.She tiptoes down the carpeted stairs, retrieves the spare key from the kitchen drawer, and slips out the front door. When the truck is warm, she backs it into the street and drives away without so much as a last look. Her stomach is jittery, her head full of plans. On Highway 20, she tunes the radio to a rock station and drums the beat on the steering wheel with her thumbs, occasionally raising her hand and hitting the air cymbals.
Behind her, flashing lights circle and Lily's insides seize. She checks her watch in the dim light from the dash and does a mental rewind: her father can't yet know she's taken the truck. The lights, bright and pulsing, close in. She drops the lighter on the seat, pulls her panties aside, and stashes the freshly rolled stick of weed in her crotch—a trick she'd learned during her two-month stay at Safe Haven. She pushes the hem of her skirt down tight against her thighs, kills the ignition, and pops a piece of Juicy Fruit in her mouth. She watches through the side view mirror as he approaches, walking with his back flattened against the truck. A State Trooper. She rolls the window down and soft, misting rain hits her face.
"License and registration?"
She hands him her license, silently thanking whatever god is listening that it isn't a probationary license any longer.
His flashlight is harsh against the surrounding blackness as he reads her information. He jerks the light up, into Lily's face, and she jumps. "Lily Thompson?"
"Yes?" she says, trying to keep the frown out of her voice. She hates her name, hates the pure, delicate image and expectation it evokes. She's prepared to flash her arms, with their quarter-inch wide crisscrossed scars, in rebuttal if he reacts with even the slightest softening.
"Registration, Ms. Thompson?" he says.
"I don't know anything about the registration." The Juicy Fruit feels like a bale of cotton in her mouth. She wants to lick her lips, to chew on them, really, which is what she does when she's nervous, but she's afraid her tongue will stick to them. Instead, she squeezes her hands into fists, squeezes hard until her nails dig into the fleshy parts. "It's my father's truck."
He shines the flashlight around the inside of the cab. "Does he know you're driving his vehicle?"
"Yes. Sir." The "sir" is an afterthought, something Lily's seen on TV.
"And where are you headed?"
"Going to pick up my boyfriend," she says and then, thinking fast, adds, "from work, at the Big Boy." Dylan got fired three weeks ago, but she can't tell him she's going to the cornfield.
"The one in town?"
"Yes, sir." The "sir" comes out closer to natural this time.
"That's Richard Paup's place. Got good burgers. And icebox lemon pie."
He looks like he's had a few too many pieces of pie, but Lily holds her tongue. She taps her toe on the floorboard. She needs to get to Dylan so they can start their new life.
Mr. State Trooper goes on about the various fruit pies, blueberry versus cherry, how you can't beat apple when it's in season, and the more he talks, the hungrier Lily gets. She keeps her head turned politely his way with what she hopes is an interested expression. Her mind, though, wanders to Dylan, to kissing him, to him playing his latest song along her body, using her breasts like ride cymbals, to the fun they'll have living together. Mr. State Trooper's tinny laugh brings her back and she looks at him, really looks at him, watches as his hand gestures first up and then down, and as he dips into the importance of flaky crusts she feels her eyes go soft and watches as his brown uniform takes on an orangey hue and, while she pretends to listen with what has to be an inane expression by now, he morphs into a huge, puffy Cheeto. She stops herself from reaching out and taking a lick just in time. Startled and just a little freaked, she makes a mental note to take it easy with the weed. When she refocuses, the officer is looking at her, waiting, and she realizes, too late, he's asked her a question. She coughs to cover her weirdness. "Excuse me?" she says, sweetness dripping from her teeth.
"His name. What's your boyfriend's name? I'll say a friendly hello to him next time I stop in for a burger."
"Dylan. It's Dylan Williamson.
The officer rips off a purple-pink sheet of paper from his pad and hands it to Lily. "I'm going to let you off with a warning," he says, "but you let your father know he's got a taillight out."
"Yes, sir. I'll tell him."
He tips his head and touches the brim of his hat with his fat fingers. "Drive safe now."
Lily throws her license on the seat and rolls up the window. She considers retrieving the weed snuggled in her privates but decides not to risk it. The old Ford sputters to life and after a few presses of the gas pedal, she puts it into gear and pulls back out onto the road. The rain isn't so much rain as a blanket of wetness, thick and heavy, making it hard to see. Flustered, irritated, and relieved, she lets out a howl. "Goddamn," she yells, hitting the wheel with the palm of her hand. It skitters off, though, because of the sweat. She lets go of the wheel and rubs both palms on her skirt and then checks the rearview: no flashing lights, no lights at all. Complete blackness.
She lifts her leg to get at the weed and the truck slows so she schooches her butt down a little, and her foot again rests on the gas pedal. Her fingernails are too long to go digging in her crotch, especially at such a weird angle, but after a couple more tries, she pulls the weed free. The paper is wet. Really wet. Lily places the stick on the seat next to her, hoping it'll be dry by the time she gets to the cornfield.
She shakes her head and does a little shimmy with her shoulders as though releasing the whole experience. She fills her lungs and when all the air is expelled, she again is focused on Dylan. A smile creeps along her lips. She eyes the drying joint, recalls her near miss with the Cheeto vision and laughs out loud. Wait till Dylan hears about that. Van Halen's Eruption comes on the radio and Lily cranks the volume up. Using the dashboard, she rolls the china cymbals, hits the toms with both hands and then loses herself in the guitar solo. When it's over she feels rejuvenated, alive, ready. The feeling reminds her of the time at Dylan's place, a month ago, when she'd realized he was the one. They'd just had sex and were laying on the bare mattress, legs entwined. When Lily discovered how late it was she'd let out a loud groan.
"I'm dead," she'd said.
"It's only 10 o'clock."
Lily rolled over and sat up. "I'm supposed to be walking in the door." She gathered her crumpled clothes, tugged her shirt over her head and then stood and slipped into her jeans. "My father will be waiting with a list of things I'm grounded from or with a belt in his hands, depending on his mood."
Dylan tapped the space beside him. "You're already in trouble, right? Stay." He gave her a lopsided grin, the grin that always made her stomach flutter. "Let's have another beer."
She looked at him, his pale skin, the sparse hairs sprinkling his breastbone, the shaggy hair framing his face and relented. Her shoulders sagging, she sank down onto the edge of the bed. "I'm tired of this shit," she said.
Dylan hooked his fingers in the waistband of her jeans and pulled her backward. He gave her ass a friendly squeeze and then slid off the end of the bed. "I'll get the beer."
"I'm serious," she said. "I'm done." She raised her voice so he could hear her from the kitchen. "I want to go someplace warm, like Florida."
He darted back into the bedroom, handed a can to Lily and, still naked, hurdled her legs. He propped himself up beside her with a look that said "ta-da."
"Did you hear me?" Lily asked. "I'm going to go south, where it's warm."
He took three big gulps of beer and wiped his mouth with his forearm. "I'll go wherever you want."
She twisted to get a better look at his face. "Really? You mean it?"
Dylan took another swallow of beer and shrugged. "Sure."
She'd kissed him, hard, and then licked his beer moustache.
Lily smiles at the memory and turns the radio down. A new mantra fills her head: no more parents; no more rules. It's catchy and soon she's chanting it in a sing-song voice.
Bits and pieces from home, from school prick her awareness, but she pushes them away. She hasn't yet decided what to do about Monday morning: is 12th grade English important? Is AP calculus? She doesn't want to think about it. Instead, she reaches for Dylan with her mind, reminds herself that they're meant to be together (that they both have a Y in their name is surely proof of this), and that this is the start of it all.
She turns onto Nicholson Road and switches the windshield wipers off. It's black as black out here and the Ford's headlights don't do much. Lily knows the way by heart, could probably navigate it in her sleep, but her excitement makes her twitchy. The plan is to be on the road before her father gets home from his shift at Twin Disc. It's not like her father uses the truck—it's been parked half on the driveway, half on the grass since Lily's mom left, four years ago next month. But he'll notice it's gone, will probably press charges against her for stealing it, so being far away is best.
Lily makes a left onto Dunkelow Road and, after a quarter mile, eases onto the gravel at the side of the pavement behind a line of cars. The cornfield's in the middle of nowhere, part of old man Miller's farm. Their spot is in the northwest corner, on the outer fringes, in an area that's patchy with rows of corn. A huge sycamore tree stands nearby and its roots interfere with the corn planting, resulting in irregular rows. They hangout amongst the rows, using logs and cardboard for seats.
She follows a narrow dirt path, now slippery and muddy from the rain, through a dense copse of trees and, after a hundred yards, emerges into a clearing. The sycamore stands at the far edge like a knobby scarecrow. She hears music and beyond the sycamore small arcs of lights poke at the night sky.
The moon, round like a cymbal, pops in and out of clouds as she makes her way over. Her bracelets—six silver, thin-as-a-whisper bangles click together in soft plinks as she walks. The faster she walks, the more noise they make. Annoyed, she pulls the bangles from her arm and shoves them into the back pocket of her skirt. She thinks about how cool the bangles would be as earrings, doubling or tripling them in each ear, or, better yet, how awesome they'd look as nipple piercings. The idea both scares and excites her and she decides she'll do it, she'll pierce her nipples as a present to Dylan.
This side of the tree, she recognizes a Kanye West song—a signal that Todd is here. He's in Dylan's band and has a thing for hip-hop music. Despite being a devout rocker, she's able to pick up the song's drumbeat and automatically follows it in her head. She tugs the V of her t-shirt down to make the most of her barely-there cleavage and smooths her hair out of her face. She rounds the tree and finds some of the regulars: Eddie playing air guitar; Melissa and Tammy lounging on lawn chairs backed up against stubby cornstalks, their beers on the ground beside them. The music changes and Todd turns away from the boom box, a bottle of beer in his hand. Flashlights illuminate the area.
"Hey," Lily says.
The guys are into the music, but the girls wave her over. "Grab a beer and join us," Tammy says. She scoots over and pats the chair's webbing next to her.
Lily walks toward them and says, "I can't stay. I have to grab Dylan and go." She peers over their heads into the spaces between the cornstalks and sees a bent knee peeking out. She thinks it must be Dylan—his Civic is parked along the road—and so steps around the lawn chairs and into the rows. She finds him sitting on the ground, a girl straddling him like a spider. Dylan's eyes are closed and he's base drumming Audioslave on the girl's bare stomach. She leans back and he taps her breasts like a snare drum.
Lily's cheeks flush. She thinks she must have this wrong, that she's not really seeing this. Everything slows down so that each sensation feels stretched: the coolness that wraps itself around her throat; the heat spiking along her spine; the icy-hot stabs in her gut. After what feels like hours, she regains control of her limbs and moves her feet, stepping backward and smack into a cornstalk. She welcomes the sharp, crinkly edges against her arms, feels the surge, the need, and her hands reflexively close around the phantom razor blade.
Dylan's eyes open and he looks up, sees Lily and pushes the girl from his lap. Lily recognizes the girl from Big Boy, a waitress with a V name who makes slits in the skirts of her uniforms to expose her upper thighs. Dylan stands and as he comes at her, Lily scrutinizes his face, looking for something—remorse, despair, some sort of sign that this is all wrong. But he smiles at her, and she thinks this is just an unconscious reaction, automatic, that it's not a real smile, but the smile reaches his eyes, and his eyes seem to twinkle and she realizes he's happy. She rolls away from the cornstalk and steps around it. She dodges the rest of the stalks, bangs her shin on the tree-stump seat but keeps moving. Her mind flashes to last summer's stay at Safe Haven, to broad-shouldered Paul and his declaration that she was his lifeline, to his refusal to take her calls when she got out. She shakes her head to push the memory away and trips over a stack of discarded beer bottles. Righting herself, she gets into the clearing. She hears Dylan behind her and, just past the sycamore, he grabs her arm and flings her around.
"What's the rush?" he says.
Lily yanks her arm free and cocks her head. She decides he's serious.
"I've been waiting for you." He brushes his fingertips along her shoulder and onto her neck. Cupping her neck with his hand, he applies pressure, tries to pull her to him.
She ducks her head and slips out of his grasp. "That's what you say to me when I catch you with someone else?" Her eyes feel hot; she pushes her fingernail into the pad of her finger and focuses on the pain.
"It's not like I'm with someone else," he says, and raises his fingers to make air quotes. "It's Valerie. I wanted to introduce you to her."
"What does she have to do with anything?" Her words are clipped, her tone biting. She stops, refusing to let the knowing take hold and wishes she could push a pause button. She stiffens her back and says, "What about Florida? We made plans, remember?"
Dylan lifts his shoulders. "Why go when there's so much to take advantage of right here?" He places his forefinger on the V of her t-shirt and traces a line to her bellybutton. "Valerie's a sweet girl. I think the three of us could have some fun together."
Lily recoils and then focuses on his face: he's sincere. She opens her mouth and closes it, and, after a beat, turns and stomps away.
"Come back!" His voice carries a hint of bewilderment.
She keeps walking. Her feet slip on the wet grass and she considers removing her flip-flops, but doesn't. The path through the woods seems narrower and it feels as if the trees are closing in, but she keeps moving, a tuneless beat drumming in her head. When she emerges on the other side, she heads straight to the Ford and retrieves the joint from the front seat. The paper is stiff but dry. She sits on the grassy side of the road, leans against the truck's back tire, and lights up. Sweet heat fills her lungs. She tips her head back, looks at the stars dotting the sky and fingers the raised scars on her arms. The need is still there, the pull for pain, for release.
She finishes the weed and flicks the roach into the grass. She looks out over the fields awash in moonlight and traces the last scar, near her left inner elbow, carved almost four months ago. Dull red and raised, it pulses with her heartbeat. She thought, hoped, she was done with it, but now isn't so sure. She feels the tug, feels its spark deep inside and she wonders where her mother is, wonders if she knew how fucked up Lily was, wonders if that's why she left. The moon, a few days past full, is big and bright in the sky. She raises her face to it, closes her eyes and imagines dragging a blade across its surface.
Mitzi McMahon lives in Racine, WI, a city famous for its Danish kringle. Her stories have appeared in Bryant Literary Review, Temenos, JMWW, Staccato Fiction, and elsewhere. She blogs at mitzimcmahon-lifeinwisconsin.blogspot.com.