Pete and I open our car doors in the same moment Molly, and Malachi did. The nose of her beat-up, high-end SUV was barely an inch from Pete’s rusted trunk. A 1979 Monte Carlo had been Pete’s dream car since he saw Speed and Fury in the movie theater. The car became part of his Rock in Roll dream, granted a well-kept fully refinished version. The current Monte Carlo he had was barely passable as a car, and much more convincing as lawn furniture. The rumbling of the engine became the anthem of my friendship with Pete. I’d never be able to think of him and not the sound his car made.
“I’ve seen nicer streets.” Molly looped her arm around mine. Her smile was keyed up and in the direction of Pete. I couldn’t blame her.
“A house is a house,” Malachi sped up to keep pace with the rest of us. “I’d much rather have a house than a closet of a bedroom that sets me back six hundred a month.” Malachi’s face twisted in disgust.
“One day I’ll live in a mansion,” Pete spoke to the sky. His hopeful words rained over me.
“You plan on being rich?” Molly asked, her voice tinged with interest.
“I plan on being a rock star,” Pete ran his fingers through his hair, temporally uncomfortable.
Molly smiled to herself but said nothing.
I reached out and squeezed Pete’s arm and mumbled, “A mansion with an apartment over the garage.”
Pete laughed at this. “That goes without saying.” When his eyes held me in the center, I felt like I existed in a different world, a world just our own. But, once mom died, our private little world had more pain in than before. I found myself wanting space from all that was recognizable.
The sidewalks were cracked and crumbled at the corners. Juvenile trees with bare branches cast shadows on the road, which were in similar condition. This particular neighbor didn’t allow space for driveways, so the street was narrowing by framing rows of parked cars. The air was so harshly cold that the clouds of breath burned my lips each time I exhaled.
A melody of beeps broke the temporary silence that had settled between us. Malachi slid his bedazzled phone from his back pocket, “Oh nice!” He said, then turned to Molly. “Lincoln beat us here.”
Pete’s whole body noticeably tensed.
“That’s the friend back in town?” Molly rooted around in a bright orange purse before pulling out lip gloss.
“Yeah, he’s had a rough year,” Malachi said this as his voice gradually fell in tone until he sounded nothing but grim. “Both his parents died in a car wreck.”
My stomach tensed.
Pete sighed to himself but continued not to partake in the conversation. I couldn’t figure out what his problem actually was, but it was clear, to me at least that something was getting under Pete’s skin.
“Oh man,” Molly dabbed purple tinted lip gloss on her full lips. She smacked her lips together exactly once, then tossed her hair behind her shoulder. This brought Pete out of his unexplained mood briefly.
Then Malachi said, “He’s staying with his aunt and uncle, but is looking for a place of his own. He should be around for a while.”
“Is that the guy you hired right before me?”
“Yeah, you open with him up Monday,” Malachi tossed his hand to the side before pulling a cigarette out from behind his ear. “How far did we park?”
“We are in Lodi,” Pete growled. His mind circling around something.
“True words, man,” Molly reached out and gave Pete’s arm a gentle squeeze, which made my stomach turn.
“Lincoln is by the fireplace, he’ll wait for me there,” Malachi slid his phone back into his pocket.
Pete mumbled something to himself then said, “What’s Lincoln’s last name?”
“Bachman,” Malachi’s sounds puffed out with the smoke.
Pete’s hands clenched into fists. “Plays the drums?”
“I believe that’s one of the many stories that follow that boy around. Some of us are just more twisted than others.”
“I know him. He’s no good.” Pete’s face was nothing but a frown. He isn’t somebody that typically says negative things about others. More than not, Pete is all nice.
“No good? What are you forty?” I elbowed him in the side.
“This isn’t funny Elliot.” Pete jerked his arm to the side.
Something spending so much time with Pete taught me was that teenage boys go through just about as many hormonal swings as us girls. They just don’t have grand finals one a month.
“Okay. Sorry.” I tried to smooth my mouth out of its smile, but trying not to smile is a lot like trying not to laugh, more fun when it’s not proper timing.
“He’s the one Cora cheated on me with, the one in out of juvey. He’s trouble. Trust me.” Pete’s face was completely serious.
“Okay.” I always took Pete’s word to heart. But, for some reason, Pete’s stance on Lincoln made me want to learn everything about him I possibly could.
“He is riddled the baggage.” Malachi took another pull form his cigarette. “Almost didn’t give him a job, but we all need chances, right?”
“Absolutely,” said Molly.
“I’m not sure about that,” Pete crossed his arms.
Every weathered shingle of Wilson’s house was now in sight. It was a small white house squashed between two significantly larger ones. It stood in a barely existent yard lined with a loose chain link fence. Griddy bass and the skunky scent of just burnt weed crept out of the shack, inviting us in, signaling it was the weekend.
Pete pushed the partial hung gate open, scrapping it across the cracked pavement walkway as he did.
“So this is what’s it’s like to party with Elliot?” Molly jabbed me in the side.
“I guess,” I shrugged feeling a sudden urgency to distance myself from them–a side effect of being broken, I suppose.
“There is the suspect in question,” Malachi sung as walked up to Lincoln. His hair was in dark curls around his face, his eyes almost black. Darkness surrounded him in a way I hadn’t seen wickedness linger before. Just like that, suddenly I didn’t want to look away from him.
Malachi chattered about some t-shirt misunderstanding as our eyes found each other. When Lincoln first looked at me, I felt like he already knew I was watching him. My stomach burned uncomfortably as I walked closer to him; Pete was on my left and Molly on my right.
“Molly, what were you telling me about with keys and boxes?” Malachi’s voice beckoned Molly closer.
“Let’s get a beer,” Pete said to me in a rush, loud enough for everyone to hear. His hand on my lower back.
I took my eyes from Lincoln to Pete reluctantly. “Okay,” I said.
“Catch up with you in a sec!” Molly squeaked at me. Her smile was so striking it felt disingenuous, but in the same breath caused me to feel special.
Pete muttered, “Lincoln Bachman,” under his breath as we squeezed passed a group of guys in the tight hallway. The smoke was so thick it created a haze to see through.
“What’s up with you?”
“I don’t like that you work with him,” Pete was frowning, which I couldn’t stand.
“Well, technically I haven’t started yet.” I forced my lips into a grin, though this only seemed to worsen his mood.
“Seriously, I got to know him pretty well. Lincoln is bad news, keep your distance.” Pete’s words might have reminded me of a father’s tone had I had one to compare it to.
“Okay, I got it. I’ll proceed with caution.”
“Don’t proceed with anything.”
“Pete.” I looked him squarely. “I hear you.” This wasn’t the first time that Pete has laid his two cents on my life out that plainly, but it was the first time I wasn’t set on listening.
“Okay, then.” Pete reached into the grease-smudged refrigerator. Half empty chip bags and soda bottles lined the ketchup pack covered countertops.
I took one from him, our fingers grazed. That same feeling that kept in my stomach when I was watching Pete on stage came back. His eyes seemed to be feeling something different. There was a shift of some kind.
“Thanks,” I mumbled.
“I care about you,” Pete shrugged his shoulders to let me know it was no big deal, not something to dwell on. For the first time, there were things I didn’t want to tell Pete. This difference was notable to both parties.
“El…Pete started, but Moly trotted into the room. Her eyes and hair wild. “Some guy just puked ll over your drummer.” She tossed open the fridge door like she’d been in the house a million times before or maybe even like it was her house. Every ounce of me ached to stroll around with that much comfort in myself. My hand naturally reached into my pocket, grasping the camera, without my permission.
“Let me get one,” I said as I brought the camera between them and me. A safe sensation travels up my arm. Even though a pang of jealousy rose up my stomach into my throat I snapped a few pictures of Pete and Molly with their arms around each other, I felt safer than I would if the camera wasn’t between us.
The moment the camera was back in the barrels of my hoodie pocket the amount of exposure I felt was unbearable.
“Is that a baby doll head hanging from the ceiling fan?” Molly’s whole face wrinkled in concern.
“Oh, that’s nothing. Have you seen the naked devil lady on the bathroom wall?” Pete’s words rocked out with a chuckle.
“Oh my god no, I haven’t!” Molly cooed.
“Let me show you,” Pete grabbed Molly’s arm. “Be right back,” he threw at me as he walked off with Molly. I couldn’t help but feel confused and somehow responsible for encouraging them to leave the room together.
I allowed the weight of my body to lean on the wall beside the fridge. I let my eyes close as the beer washed over my tongue. My mind drifted through different outcomes and possibilities. People’s talking and laughter, mixed with the music, but it was all happening outside the kitchen. Not one part of me wanted to remove myself from the quiet room. Certain moment’s felt so loud and bright that the idea of that happening ever gave me plenty of reason to stay hidden, or at least be motivated to be.
Mom’s hair and smiling fell in the front of my mind, and even though it was mostly unwelcomed, I gave in. When I gave in completely, I could almost feel her touch.
“You should be having fun,” her voice whispered in the distance. Anytime I heard my mom’s voice I couldn’t help but felt guilty as if I’d done something wrong.
“Guarding the trove?” An unfamiliar male voice broke through my spiraling thoughts.
Lincoln was standing there in a tight army green t-shirt. His lips up close seemed remarkably pouty. A barely notable stumble scattered his gaunt cheeks.
“Yep.” My voice came out incredibly stiff. Pete’s warning felt like it was written on my face.
Lincoln nodded, mostly to himself as he opened the refrigerator and got a beer out. “I hear we open together Monday.”
“I hear that too.” I forced myself to look away as I chugged my beer back, hoping to dull the painful edges.
“Pete your boyfriend?” Lincoln pulled another beer out of the fridge and handed it to me.
At first, I just looked at him, not sure what to do or say. To admit I was flustered might have been the biggest understatement of my life.
“Looked like you were gonna need another.” He raised one eyebrow.
“Yeah. Thanks.” I took the offered beer quickly careful not touch his hand in any way. After the first sip, Lincoln just kind of lingered around waiting for me to say something. The cloud of darkness that swirled out of eyes quickly became intoxicating. I instantly regretted being cold to him at all.
“Thank you,” I mumbled into my sleeve. “Pete’s my best friend.”
“He told you his high opinion of me?” A knowing smirk played with the corner’s of Lincoln’s mouth in a dangerous way.
“Something like that,” I couldn’t help but feel softer.
“We all have bad days.” His full words settled on the floor between our feet.
“Yeah, that’s for sure.” As my eyes watched him, carefully I couldn’t help but think of the beauty and draw of fire.
“Hey, El,” Pete’s voice boomed down the narrow hallway packed with dudes and smoke.
I quickly stood up from the wall, which Lincoln definitely noticed.
“We gotta jet,” Pete said his words coming to a quick fault. “What’s up dude?” he said to Lincoln. “Been awhile.”
“Yep. New Jersey has the way of sucking its kind back.”
“That’s a scary sentence,” I said without any thought beforehand.
“Truth often is,” Lincoln mumbled.
I was fairly sure in the moment that I was going to have to kiss Lincoln Bachman at some point.
Pete shook his head in disgust. “ My mom was walking Matilda and accidentally locked herself out.”
Molly and Malachi came into the kitchen. “You guys are leaving?” She tilted her head in an attempt to make herself look like a wounded puppy.
“Yeah, my mom locked herself out.” Pete looked at me, “Ready?”
“I can give you a ride.” Molly offered, not paying much attention to Lincoln, who was still standing there.
“No, I’m sleeping there. Matilda is my dog.” I smiled awkwardly. My eyes found Lincoln. “See you Monday.” I couldn’t believe it, but there was a smile on my face.
As Pete and I walked out of the kitchen, I couldn’t help but feel like I should be staying. For the first time in my life being by Pete’s side didn’t feel like that right thing. I wasn’t ready for the quiet.