The inside of Molly’s car smelled like coconut suntan lotion and cigarette smoke. I quickly realized that once those initial smells sink in, there is then a hint of nachos. Plastic beads hung in a rainbow of color from the rear view mirror which wore a fuzzy pink leopard cover. Molly bent her lanky body over the steering wheel as she cranked the engine. “It hasn’t run right since it some chuckleheads stole it this summer. I parked behind Coco Bananas. Stupid. My dad’s gonna get me a new one when he comes back from China.”
“Why is he in China?” I mumbled out the questions as fumbled with the stubborn seatbelt that was sticky to the touch.
“Interesting you ask why he was there before when is he coming back.” Molly’s full lips twisted into a grin.
“What about that is interesting?” I rubbed my fingers together trying to avoid the urge to ask my mom if she likes her. The problem with talking to the dead, is that once you start it becomes really hard to stop. The turquoise waves of my hair peeked at me from a corner of the side mirror.
“You wondered about the person instead of a new car. Everyone else I’ve told that story to are more curious about the car.” She slid on bright blue sunglasses, that when settled into position took up more than half of her face. Who the hell was this girl? I had never met anyone who had aroused so many questions.
“I don’t like cars. I’ve successfully avoided driving them so far.” My voice comes out clearer than it has in months, I hardly recognized the loose vowels.
“You don’t have your license?” Molly’s pursed her purple painted lips.
“Nope. Don’t want it.” I shook my head as I focused how relaxed my shoulders suddenly are.
“The whole idea makes me nervous.”
“Freedom and uncertainty make a lot of people nervous.” She laughs to herself, then glances over to me nervously then shifts the car into reverse. She cast her eyes behind us.
I sat there silently as her words sunk into me.
“Gave you something to think about?” Molly said to me as she drove through the parking lot like her pants were on fire. I pressed my foot against the dirt encrusted Batman floor mats wishing I had the power to use the break pedal.
“Perhaps rabbit,” I muttered.
“Thanks for taking off with me,” she pushed out a heavy breath. “The few months have been total shit, so I don’t why I’m so surprised that Arron dumped me. Of course, my boyfriend would break up with me. The ass was only with me because I was a model.” She shakes her head at her own words. The car jerks to a stop. “Can you believe that he is already dating Crystal? Who by the way was one of my best friends. At least that is what I thought.”
“You were a model?”
“Yep. Dear mommy had me posing for pictures before I was out of the womb.”
“That’s intense.” I dug my finger tips into the leather interior as Molly accelerate to sixty the moment the light turned green. I was completely terrified, and I loved it. Somehow being scared was so much better than being sad.
“You’re telling me. If my mother’s goal was to make me completely out of touch with everything that makes someone functional she has certainly succeeded.”
She talked about her mom in ease, because Molly didn’t know me as the girl who’s mom died of cancer. I was just some girl who was stuck going to the same stupid group. We were both misguided and given up on. A sense of pride filled my legs.
I giggled as Molly continued to go on. “Make a note if you ever become a mom, don’t try to create a supermodel.”
“Okay, I’ll make a note.”
Molly pushed her sunglasses back, taking her red hair with them. Her eyes glanced at my from the side as she also kept some of her focus on the road. It took forever to get anywhere because there was a major traffic light every block, it felt like.
“Why did you stop?”
“I almost died from an eating disorder. My mom taught me home to puke on demand when I was twelve.”
“Yep. I live with my aunt and uncle now.”
“I live with my step dad and his new wife.”
“Sucky adults really suck.”
I laughed out loud at this. “You smoke pot?” I asked. There was weight gone from the shoulder for the first time in entirely too long. It felt so freeing.
“Does a monkey like bananas?”
“Not all mokeys eat bananas.”
“Probably true, but doesn’t mean you don’t get my meaning.”
“I got it,” I mumbled back as I dug into my bag. “How do you feel about j rides?” I asked as I pulled out my small tin of pre-rolled joints. I learned how to roll joints for my mom. I took all her medical weed and rolled joints so she could have one whenever. When you watch someone you love slowly die, you want to do everything you possibly can do for that person while you can no matter how trivial. Time is precious. It’s a saying that is so over used the weight of the words are gone completely. But, the saying couldn’t be more right.
“I’m a subscriber,” Molly’s voice squeaked as she said this, which I remember that somehow cemented how awesome I thought she was.
“Cool beans,” I said as sparked one of the fatter joints.
“That’s my cue to get on the highway,” Molly said with her words wrapped in a laugh.
The wind rushed between small cracks in the windows. Molly turned up some screaming music. As the angst poured from her speakers, I leaned backed into the leather seat feeling like a teenager for the first time in a long time. I had checked out of being a teen when I found out mom was dying. I wanted to completely cash in all the time I possibly could with her. I think now in a lot of ways having her as my only focus contributed to the destruction of me because everything I had was wrapped up in her needs and her comfort. If I could go back I would do it all the same. I knew I didn’t want to regret the time I didn’t spent with her.
Thick smoke filled my lungs, then slowly released.
“See, isn’t this better?” Molly asked, her voice time pitches higher and happier than it was the neglected parking lot.
“Oh yeah, not sure what the repercussions will be.”
“Nay, worry about that later.” Molly looked the joint carefully fro finger tips and brought it to her lips. Music, wind, and pot smoke surrounded me in padded bubble. My insides weren’t toxic. “So, I crashed out as a model and am forced to do the group. I just took my GED so maybe I’ll do junior college once I put myself back together again.”
“How long has it been since you stopped modeling?” My finger grazed hers as I retrieved the joint. Her blue painted fingernails made my bare nails seem plain and uninteresting.
“Four months since I almost died. One month since I’ve been out of the rehab place.”
“Long, weird story.” Molly coughs on an inhale. “So,” she continues to choke a little bit, then clears her voice, “So, why are you in a group?”
“I smoke pot and don’t go school. My guardians don’t know what to do with me. ” A pang of guilt for not mentioning mom puled at the tips of my toes.
“So neither of us belong there. We can start a list of things we have in common.”
“Man, life sucks. I knew it did since I was five and my mom slapped me in the face for getting my dress dirty.”
“I found out a little later.” The lack of trees was hard t ignore. I think a lot of people are used to a lack of green and growth, but I can’t stop worry about my lack of oxygen I’m probably getting.
“Well, I think everyone finds out eventually.”
“Yeah, I’m beginning to think the same thing.” Heat tells me the paper is close to burning my finger tips. “It’s kicked.”
“There, drop it in the soda bottle.” Molly pointed her long, skinny finger at the bottle in the cup holder closest to me.
As I follow her directions Molly peals off the highway. The Garden State Squares, a mall that has accrued three additions in six years, and as of last November has a sixteen theater movie pavilion. In the eyes of anyone over the age of twelve thought it as the heart and pulse of Northern New Jersey. It was our watering hole. All the high schools in a twenty minute radius, spent time at The Squares, which made the entire area feel incredibly too small and incestuous. Everyone knew everyone, or at least that’s what I thought.
My head smacked against the headrest in reaction to Molly’s ripping into a space. A pleading male voice screamed the words, “I don’t know where to find me,” in her speakers as my stomach eased back into it’s rightful place.
“You are hard on those pedals,” I said almost laughing, which I remember thinking was amazing.
“Well, that’s why they are there right?” She asked as she climbed out of the oversized, highness and poorly treated SUV.
I followed closely behind her as we transversed the uneven pavement of the seemingly never-ending parking lot. The mall entrance was barely in sight. The harsh cold whipped against any exposed skin. By Thanksgiving it was painful to be outside.
As we hustled up the small staircase that passed through one of the eight parking garages, a set of large glass doors were framed by people I’d never seen before. Three girls all in black sat on small wall with a pile of bracelets and earrings in front of them. They all were completely focused on their horde and not at all on their surroundings.
“Best shoplifters around. They take orders too.” Molly said matter of factly, then pointed at four boys all with band t-shirts and jeans that were tighter than mine. “Great to hook up with, all of them.” Molly waved at them. A boy with blue hair and dark tan skin waved back. He winked at me. I could help but chuckle to myself. I felt as though Molly and I just walked into an entirely different world. A circle of boys stood to the left of the doors. They are knocking around a bright yellow hacky sack around. Another collection of unfamiliar faces clicked on their phones not taking note of anything of the world they were physically in.
“It’s been forever,” a female a little taller than Molly strolled up. She wore a long black trench coat and plaid pants underneath it. Black braids hung around her face resembling a lion mane.
“Yeah, well I can’t stand seeing certain people, ya know?” Molly shrugged, then found me with her eyes, “This my new favorite person, Elliot. Elliot this is my x twice removed, Tori.”
“One of many,” Tori’s lipped curled into a smirk. “Cool name.”
“Well, we are gonna head inside before my boobs fall off. Good seeing you. You look beautiful.” Molly smiled as she slid her arm around my shoulders.
We walked inside, instantly getting smacked by a strong mix of greasy food and over-priced fragrances. Molly let her arm drop to her side. My mind replayed her saying I was her new favorite person.
“Follow me, let’s go have some fun.” She pointed to a guy working at the taco stand, “I know where we can get some free food.”
My head was in such trance from free-taco-Sal, to all the stores we went in and out of, that I didn’t think about the possibility of the group calling the house when I didn’t show up. Of course, they would. This annoying realization slapped me in the face the moment I walked through the overly nice door when I saw Glen. His expression was the closest I’ve seen to resembling fire. It was funny to think how Molly and I were just talking about there would be no way they’d know because we timed it perfect.
“Where the hell were you?” Glen scowled when he demanded the answer.
Brian and Matilda ran in from the living room. “Don’t worry I took care of Tilly.”
“Thanks bud. That’s a cute name for her.” I wrapped my arm around his small body.
He smiled up at me.
“Elliot.” Glen’s voice trembled.
“My friend broke up with her boyfriend and she asked me to go to the mall with her.” I kept my voice stable.
“That’s it?” Glen’s anger seem to defuse. “What friend?”
“Molly. I met her at group.” I felt a smirk begin to beg for an appearance, but I had to fight it. Smiling at Glen always made him angrier.
“Great! She’s making friends with drug addicts,” Joan walked into he room. Amelia’s yogurt-covered face was turned up into a severe frown. Her little hands clutched onto Joan’s shirt.
“Well, you send me there, what do you think’s gonna happen?” Joan made my head hurt. I hated everything she stood for and everything she did. What kind of person helps to cheat on someone’s dying wife.
My stomach started to clench. The light and fearless feeling I had with Molly began to fade away.
“She has a point.” Glen said, no longer fuming. “You can’t just bum around the mall all day, though. That’s not going to get you any where.”
“How is that group for drug addicts going to help me?”
“The point was to help you kick the pot you are smoking,” Joan wined.
“That’s now how that works,” I shook my head annoyed that she was even pretending to parent me.
“No more group. There’s a new plan.” Glen said this looking at Joan and not me.
“What is it?” Joan and I asked in unison.
“Two choices. Either go back to school, or job and therapy”
Joan throw her free hand up and walked out of them room.
“I’ll get a job,” I said as I thought, at the mall.
I was reorganizing my photos for the third time that month, both family pictures and pictures of strangers I’ve collected over the past year. I rarely took pictures of objects but thought about picking it up. The sounds of the rest of house were completely hidden behind headphones I wore. I found that if I listen to music loud enough, it felt like I was somewhere else.
A message popped up in the corner of the screen. Pete’s profile picture of his head in a beer box always made me chuckle, it doesn’t matter that I’ve seen it a hundred times.
Pete: How was group?
I smiled and typed. Didn’t go. Made a new friend. She’s crazy, but I think you’ll like her.
Pete: Is she a drug addict?
Me: No, an ex-model.
Pete: Is anyone at the group a drug addict?
Me: Oh, yes definitely.
Pete: Are you grounded? You can’t get grounded. I need you at the show.
Me: You need me to take pictures.
Pete: No, I also need you. You are my good luck charm. Who the hell needs a habit foot what I’ve got you.
I couldn’t help put feel like I’d had just been wrapped in a warm blanket. Pete always made me feel safe. That’s the idea of best friends, right? Comfort is a benefit.
Pete: You should invite her to the show.
Me: I have to find out her number. Glen pulled me out of the group.
Pete: No shit? What is your next torture.
Me: Get a job, and try therapy again.
Pete: That’s not terrible. You should come back to school.
Me: I can’t Pete.
Pete: I miss you at school.
Me: I miss you.
Pete: Wanna come over and watch River Kids Force. I just downloaded season six.
Me: Will you feed me?
Pete: Of course.
Me: Can I bring Matilda?
Pete: Works for me.
Me: Unlock the back door for me.
Pete: You are gonna have to walk through the front door of my house at some point.
Me: See you in ten.
I turned off the monitor screen and leaned back in my chair. The wooden spools dug into my spine. My shoulders felt fighter. My chest didn’t hurt as much as it had been. My eyes gently closed as my day sunk into me.
Matilda’s cold nose touched my hand. I opened my eyes to look at her and saw the ends of my mom’s strawberry blonde hair floating behind the curtains. The weight was back. My stomached turned. And, just like it all came back. For the first time, I didn’t want to think about mom I just wanted to be happy, or I even settled for not in pain.
“Let’s go for a walk Matilda,” I cooed at her.
She stood up and wagged her tail. I patted my leg as I made a desperate flea for the hallway. It’s possible staying in motions helps.
Copyright 2016 Jayme Beddingfield
*Note: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to anyone is entirely coincidental.
The first five episodes of Elliot Granger & The Clueless Brigade will be on iTunes & Stitcher 4/30!