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Sherri said, “Pretend you’re my brother.”

We were behind the Exxon station, in the strip of weeds and destroyed pavement between the back of the building and a wooden fence. It was a gathering place for local kids. You could be unseen there, even though Rt. 27 was right nearby. Sometimes the attendant would walk behind the building to empty his window-washing bucket but he would just look at us and never say anything. The area was littered with small, empty cinnamon whisky bottles. We were sitting on kitchen chairs, matching but broken in different ways. Who knew who’d dragged them back there, or from where.

The brother thing made me uncomfortable, and I told her so. Her brother was an annoying kid who’d d died of a brain tumor. I was busy trying to make a pipe out of an apple, and then when the apple got destroyed a beer can. I had a little bud and my only goals were to smoke it and then make out with this perfectly willing and acceptable female.

She said, “Not my actual brother, God. That’s so gross. I mean like a pretend brother. Like we were on a farm in the eighteen hundreds. Brother and sister. And maybe one day we started kissing in a barn.”

Someone had also dragged a mattress back there, so there were possibilities. I managed to get a hole in the beer can, and had it crumpled the right way, but when we tried to smoke the bud it just ashed and blew away. I got a hit but she couldn’t.

I tried to pretend I was her brother – the fake eighteen hundreds farm brother – as we made out. I didn’t know what exactly to do so every once in a while I went, Wait, this is wrong, we shouldn’t… and sometimes she would stop and say Oh my God I have a crush on my own brother. It was fine but I kept drifting away from the farm and thinking about her actual brother. He was two grades behind us and he’d been a complete social untouchable. He harangued people in the hallways about how tough he was, and made beeping noises as he scooted past. Nobody took him seriously, and some kids were really brutal. They’d push him up against lockers, humiliate him. He was freckled and redheaded and named Jerry. I remember only one interaction with him. He’d cornered me in the hallway to sputter about how I shouldn’t piss him off because he was the boss of the entire school. I just said Okay Jerry. I didn’t have the heart to mess with him, even though he obviously deserved it. I was vaguely aware that his sister was hot. He told me he would kick my ass if I didn’t do whatever he said, and I said You’re the boss Jerry. Then, they took him out of school and he’d died really quickly.  And now I was behind a gas station making out with his hot sister, the hottest person I’d ever made out with. Honestly, there’d only been a few others, and one had been nicknamed The Floor.

The whole brother thing was making me feel dark and broody, so I stopped making out with her and sulked for a while as she did things with makeup. 

The gas station attendant came and stared at us. Then he said, “Stay in or get out.” He pointed away, I think he was trying to shoo us. This had never happened before, and I wasn’t about to show any weakness.

“Stay in,” I said.

Sherri said, “I want to go.”

“No, didn’t you hear him? He gave us two choices. I chose to stay in.” I had him there. I was right, and the police would see that.

He repeated himself. “Stay in or get out.” He was one of those people with dark skin, but not black, so you couldn’t tell where he came from. He was just some poor guy from another country taking lip from teenagers.

“I already told you,” I said. “We opt to stay in, good sir.”

Sherri said, “Mike, can we go?” I don’t know why she needed my approval. Nobody was stopping her.

The gas station guy stared at me for a while. I didn’t move and stared right back until he gave up and returned to his duties. Then I followed Sherri across the highway to the video rental store. I didn’t have a VCR, but it was a place to go where there were aisles, and things to look at. Movie covers. I liked the Faces of Death series, which had grainy photos on the case of people being executed and soldiers being shot.

Sherri followed me along the aisles, picking up videos and reading the reviews on the back. At some point I’d been put in charge again. It was always like this, me following her or her following me. Lately our wanderings had been mostly silent, because she was always mad at me for something. It didn’t seem to matter what I did, so I figured this was just the way girls were and you had to ignore it with all of your powers.

I don’t know if either of us would have called it a relationship. We’d been talking and sometimes making out for a couple weeks. Once she’d shown me one of her tits, lifting her blouse so that the other was still concealed, as if that would be too much. In school she’d pretend to be too busy to even look at me, surrounded by a gaggle of almost identical, slightly-less-hot girls. But that didn’t matter, because I hardly went to school. I spent my mornings at a deli down the road selling fake drugs to younger kids, and went back at two-thirty to walk her home. Her house was big and had a brick front and columns. I never saw her parents. I imagined they were what I imagined rich people to be. Baffled creatures with closed shades, who sat together around a dinner table every night fully dressed up. They probably had small, bloodless mouths.

There was a room at the back of the video store separated from the rest by a beaded curtain. I asked Sherri if she’d ever wanted to go in there, just to say something, and surprisingly she said yes.

“Girls like porn too,” she said. “Don’t be sexist.” It was the hottest thing anybody had ever said to me.

I hadn’t been in the back room, though I’d spent a lot of time in the store edging closer to the opening to get a colorful glimpse when some pervert went inside. Always old men. You know they weren’t watching it with their wives. I imagined that Jerry would have grown up to be one of these men, if he hadn’t been claimed early, which was honestly probably for the best – he would have spent years shuffling in and out of small rooms like this.

The kid who was working there at the time – and there was only one – was a senior at our school, but a doofy one I wasn’t afraid of. I’d heard he was an Eagle Scout. He had terrible white-topped neck zits I wanted to rake my nails over. I didn’t understand how he could just leave them there and walk around like that.

Emboldened by my triumph over the gas station attendant, I hovered by the Christmas movies until he wasn’t looking and then pulled Sherri through the beads.

The back room was small and crowded with cheap-looking videos whose contents, at least from the covers, looked about identical. Young And Horny. Trucker Sluts, etc. I was particularly drawn to the ones with lesbians on them. I loved lesbians above all things, though I’d never met one for sure, and the teachers that were rumored to be gay I found repulsive. There was a kind of ideal lesbian that lived only in my imagination, until their existence was confirmed on the covers of those videos. On one, a beautiful mature schoolteacher in glasses had a young girl student bent over her desk and was spanking her with a book. The world had suddenly become a more magical place, full of wonders.

Sherri showed me another called Farm Girls. She was obviously still thinking about her farming incest fantasy. The cover had a blond hayseed woman with fake freckles getting plowed by a tanned stud in a cowboy hat who looked nothing like me.

This gave me an idea, and I said, “We should pretend to both be farm girls. We can be sisters.” It was an elegant plan, which incorporated the farm, the incest, and lesbians. It would be just like I was there among lesbians, because I would be. Like a secret camera on the inside of the lesbian experience. This was years before the trans movement and I wasn’t even thinking in those terms. I didn’t want to be a girl forever. I only wanted to pretend to be one for a little while, in private, with her. There was a red light on in the room and I found it sexy as fuck.

Sherri made a face and wouldn’t look me in the eye. I said, “What? What? What’s the matter baby?” I was just starting to try out little things like that, relationship talk. Whenever I did her whole body would stiffen up, like she was reliving a terrible memory. Perhaps the moment of her brother’s sad death.

Just then the Eagle Scout parted the beads and said, “Excuse me? Can I see your IDs?” in a cunty tone of voice that immediately set me off.

I said, “You can’t just ask people for their ID. This is America.”

Sherri said, “Mike, stop.”

“Well, if I don’t see your IDs I’m going to have to ask you both to leave this room immediately.”

“Don’t you even know what country this is?”

I had a knack for figuring out the thing to say that would make people irate. He looked like he was about to go off on me, but Sherri stepped in and defused the situation. She took her wallet out of her purse and rifled through it. “Here,” she said. “Is this enough ID?” She used the innocent voice I imagined she used on teachers, on her parents. She was a perfect little goddess of lies.

The Eagle Scout studied her driver’s license like it was a foreign document. Then, slowly, he said, “You’re not old enough. You have to be eighteen.” He handed it back to her.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. We weren’t aware this room had an age limit,” she said.

Even the Eagle Scout was helpless before her. Suddenly he was no longer a dick. He parted the beads with his hand so we could exit and said “No problem, it was an honest mistake. The sign’s easy to miss.” It was like she’d cast a spell over him. I wondered if this was a skill rich people had, if they could always say the right thing and have people roll at their feet like dogs.

He invited us to rent any of the non-adult films in the store but after pretending to examine a copy of Bull Durham together we left and wandered along Rt. 27, looking for someplace else we could loiter for a while. This is all I remember doing as a kid. Always looking for a place to go. Never really finding one. Cars always zooming past. I was seventeen but I didn’t have a car and didn’t have any prospects of getting one. Sherri said she was getting a white BMW for her eighteenth birthday, and I wondered if I would ever get to ride in it or if, like the hallways of our school, it would be a place where our relationship didn’t exist.

I watched her pony tail gently swinging against her tanktop, looked at the tight, flawless skin of her neck. I wanted to bite it – the neck, the pony tail, all of it. I didn’t care if we just went on like this, with us walking up and down the highway and her avoiding me when her friends were around. As long as we could be together. Love was already changing me, giving me impossible notions. She’d been accepted into a college far away, and I thought that I would go with her. I could work at a gas station and we would live together while she was studying to be a veterinarian. And then, in the privacy of our apartment – filled with girly things, I imagined, lacey pillows and framed pictures with sayings on them – I would get to be her little sister. I could wear her panties and she would teach me the ways of love.

I waited outside staring at cigarette butts in an ashtray as she went into the 7-Eleven to buy us quarter drinks, because I’d been banned for life. Many local businesses were at the point where I wasn’t allowed in. I’d made a habit of going into stores just to see if I could get kicked out. It usually didn’t take much. Once, in a dingy used comic book and toy store, I was kicked out for pulling a plastic wrestling man from a Tupperware bin, waving it at the fat troll who owned the place, and asking Who got you all these toys? Your Mommy? with a smug grin. People were just waiting for any excuse to throw me out of their establishment.  

As she wiped the red juice from her mouth in the parking lot, she said, “What’s wrong with you?”

“It’s not that weird. You’re the one who wants it to be in the eighteen hundreds.”

She said, “That’s not even what I’m talking about.”

I said, “Nobody knows what the fuck you’re talking about.”

She didn’t have anything else to say. This was a relationship thing I still had no way to navigate, the angry silences. I waited for it to pass and it didn’t, and then she said she had to go home. I started walking with her. “What do you think about what I said? Do you want to do that? With me?”

“Ewww. No. I don’t like that.”

“We can try all different things. We can do your thing too.”

She said, “Please don’t tell anyone I said that. I don’t know why I told you.” She stopped and looked me in the eyes, terrified that I would reveal her dirty secret. Of course I promised not to tell. I told her that everything we did was strictly confidential. I didn’t know it at the time but I was begging. I felt something slipping away, which given my lack of awareness probably meant it was already gone.

We walked in silence for a while, but it was a new kind of silence. Whatever feelings she’d had for me had evaporated, just as quickly and mysteriously as they’d appeared. Then she said “Listen. Mike. Can you please stop following me everywhere?” as if that’s all I’d been doing all this time. “You’re kind of a lot.”

I could see what was happening. She was already trying to reshape reality with little fabrications, making me look like a weird stalker, so no one would believe me if I told the story of the few weeks we were almost in love. I was the only person who could see right through her lies – that’s why we were right for one another. I’d always been an enemy of lies, especially ones being told to me. I said, “You’re the one following me, bitch.”

She said, “You’re actually a fucking psycho.”

I let her walk away and that was it. She would go away to college alone, and later she’d fondly remember her brother Jerry who died young – his dumb freckles, the way spittle gathered in the corners of his mouth – but not me. What was his name again? That dirty kid with long hair who was already going bald.

I don’t know how I’d gotten so fooled by love. There was no other pathway in life for me, or for anyone. We all had to go to our own destinies. Sherri’s brother’s destiny was to be really irritating for a short while and then to die for no reason. Sherri’s was to be a veterinarian, and to get married to some empty husk and have kids and live in a house not unlike the one she’d grown up in, but in a different place. Mine, which had yet to reveal itself to me, was to vanish into the uselessness of alcoholism and despair.

There was only one thing left to do. Everyone had to pay the price for their actions, and I was the only person who understood this. I went back to the video store and waited until the Eagle Scout was putting some tapes back on the shelves and slipped in and lurked among the rentals until he noticed me. “Hey…kid,” he said. “I’m sorry if I came down hard before. I could get in legal trouble if anybody saw you in there.”

I said, “Oh, I hope I didn’t get you in trouble…” I meant it to be sarcastic but I didn’t have the tone down so it came out sounding sincere.

“You can keep coming in here, but no more shenanigans, okay?” He was trying to be cool. Pathetic. I pictured him in his ridiculous scouting uniform, covered in badges. His zits pulsing above the tight khaki collar.

I said, “Are you aware that this is all fake?” I picked up a copy of Robocop and held it pinched in my fingers like trash. “Fake. Not real.” I let it drop to the carpet.

He just stared at me and didn’t say anything, like he couldn’t believe what he was witnessing. It was probably the most shocking moment of his life. All of these angry silences in the world. I felt it was my duty to destroy them with chaos and tumult.

I picked up a copy of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and looked at Chevy Chase in a Santa suit, getting electrocuted by Christmas lights.  I winged it at the clerk. It hit an endcap and the tape came spilling out of the case. I said, “Why do you let people watch this filth? It’s morally disgusting.”

He put up his hands and said, “Okay. I gave you a chance. If you don’t leave right now I’m going to call the police.”

“I should call the police on you. For letting underage kids look at porn.”

I sauntered down the aisles, knocking tapes off the shelves as I pleased. Anything that caught my eye. Fatal Attraction. The Witches of Eastwick. Crocodile Dundee II. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. Each one clattered to the carpet with a satisfying noise. I didn’t care about the police anymore. I figured they would arrest me, and take me to one of those interrogation rooms like in the movies, and I would tell them my story and not leave anything out. No one could ever stop me from telling the truth.