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THE FIRST TIME I SEE HER, SHE’S ON ONE KNEE, TYING her shoe in the A-Lot, next to a lamppost, and I’m stepping out of this guy’s car with thirty dollars in all fives. He says something while I do this, but I don’t pay it any mind and he drives away.
The girl looks up at me and smiles.
She’s supercute and shit.
I stuff the cash in my pocket.
She’s wearing a jean skirt with a Blondie patch, a yellow-and-blue paint-splattered shirt with the sleeves cut off, and black Chuck Taylors with no socks, the shoelaces obviously untied, but she’s getting them there.
This is the order I always take people in.
She has oily black hair that’s cut into a she-mullet with two lines shaved into the right side of her head. She’s got freckles and decent-sized tits and a slim waist from what I can tell. It’s late in the summer but she’s pretty pale, just like I am, and her eyes are big and brown.
She stands up as I’m lighting a Pall Mall 100, and I notice that her knees are scuffed red.
“You got one of those for me, man?” she asks, her voice low and raspy, like she’s been drinking and smoking for years, even though she only looks maybe sixteen.
“Sure,” I answer, sliding out a second one and handing it to her.
“Give me a light, too, please?”
“Yeah.” I hold the lighter to the end of her cigarette. “What are you doing out here anyway?”
“Enjoying this amazing weather.”
I make a face. “Huh?”
“Come on, man. I just got dropped off, like you.”
“Shit,” I say, tucking the smokes and lighter back into the pocket of my sleeveless red-and-black-plaid shirt. “How old are you?”
“Why do you care?”
“I don’t really. You just look a little young to be doing what you’re doing.”
She shrugs and rolls her eyes. “And you look a little too much like a boy who digs chicks to be doing what you’re doing.”
“I need the money,” I say.
“That bad you need the money?”
I glance quickly at the track marks on my arms then back to her. “That bad,” I go.
“Is that heroin you shoot into them holes?” she asks.
She laughs. “Kinda, dude?”
“It’s mostly straight coke, sometimes speedballs. Those are my poisons.”
“That shit will make you go crazy.”
I take a drag and exhale. “Fucking life will make you go crazy. This just makes it more interesting.”
She grins and smoke flows out of her nostrils. “I get it.”
“So how old are you?”
“How old do you think I am?”
She shakes her head. “Wrong.”
“Higher or lower?”
She turns her thumb down.
“Fifteen,” I say.
“Wrong again, man.”
“Jesus,” I say. “Ain’t you—”
She cuts me off. “Ain’t I what?” she snorts.
“Ain’t you really superyoung to be kicking it around the A-Lot?”
“Not the way I see it,” she answers.
“And how’s that?” I ask.
“Walk with me.” She smiles, winks, then tilts her head to the side. “Come on, now. I don’t bite on the first meeting.”
• • •
We walk back toward the center of town. The sidewalk is cracked and weeds are growing everywhere. It’s muggy and the sun is shining into our faces, making us both squint.
I curse myself for not bringing my shades. Take a drag. “So tell me, then. . . .”
“How I see it?” she asks.
“I love fucking and I love sucking dick. So why not get paid to do what I love more than anything in the world besides buying clothes and records?”
“So you do this because you like to?”
“Yessir.” She’s smiling big. “I do it because I like to fuck dudes and sometimes bitches, and the money gets me the records and clothes.”
My eyes become fixated on her. A surge of rage, jealousy, and passion slams through me like a tornado, and I want her for some reason. I want her so bad it aches. I’m pissed at the guy who dropped her off for getting to touch her and have her touch him.
And I don’t even know her.
She makes a face. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Like what?” I ask.
“Like you want to fuck me and then hate me right after for it.”
A bug flies into the side of my face, and I swipe at it. The emotional twister dissolves into nothing just as suddenly as it arrived. My heart slides back into place.
And I go, “Whoa, there. Whoa.”
“That’s what your face looks like, man. I’m just being super-duper honest.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “That’s not what I’m thinking or anything.”
“So you don’t want to fuck me?” She’s grinning again.
My cheeks flush, and I wipe the sweat from my forehead. “No, that’s not it.”
A truck filled in the back with tan kids in dirty jeans and dirty shirts flies by us.
“Whores,” a couple of them scream out.
She flips them off. “Faggots!” she yells back.
I take the last drag of my cigarette. “I don’t want to hate you afterward, and I know I wouldn’t at all. I swear to you that I wouldn’t.”
This admission seems to throw her off. The truth shakes her for just a second, and I catch that beautiful grin again, flashing just for me. Her guard coming down just ever so slightly. Her eyes get even bigger—they sparkle—and she winks, the last drag of her smoke flowing through her nose as she says, “That’s nice to know.”
The moment passes, but my feelings of blatant attraction and love at first sight whip through me even harder. “Thanks for saying that.”
“You’re fucking welcome, man,” she says back.
• • •
The street turns from old pavement into faded red brick as we cross the Arch, the small bridge that stretches over the small creek that divides Beaver Falls into two.
Some kids are partying under the bridge. I hear them laughing and their boom box blasting out Guns N’ Roses, and I wonder if I know any of them.
“I hate the kids who hang here,” she says.
“I think they’re a bunch of idiots.”
“I hang out down there sometimes.”
She looks at me, and her fucking eyes are sparkling.
“Am I an idiot?” I ask.
“I don’t even know you, man.”
“Based on this conversation,” I say as we get over the bridge and it turns onto Main Street. “Do you think I am?”
“You haven’t said anything stupid. That’s pretty darn cool. Usually guys say stupid shit to me right away.”
“Like, ‘Hey, cutie. Those lips would feel great around my dick.’ Or, ‘Yo, girl, that ass needs worked out. I can be your personal trainer.’”
“Shut the fuck up,” I go. “No way dudes are that lame.”
“Oh, hell yeah, they are. That stuff really gets thrown my way a lot. It’s fucking pathetic.”
“Well, that ain’t me.”
The grin turns into a full-on smile that goes from ear to ear. “I like that.”
“But I still hang out under the Arch sometimes.”
She shrugs. “You’re just the exception, then.”
“It really can be fun.”
“They were playing fucking Guns N’ Roses,” she goes. “I can always get behind that.”
“You’re a GN’R fan?” I ask.
She shoots a look right at me. “You need me to answer that? Do you?”
“I think you just did,” I say.
“Good. Love me some of that old GN’R.”
We continue down Main Street. Shops and bars and hardware stores. Two small diners. A pizza place with video games and cheap beer. An ice-cream shop. And Larry’s Chicken Shack, with my apartment right above.
Cars line the street. It’s just after one. Lunchtime.
We stop at the intersection of Main and I-22, the road that runs through town.
We glance tough at each other.
“I live up there,” I say, turning and pointing at Larry’s. “Right above the chicken place.”
She nods. “Does your place smell like chicken?”
“Sometimes it does.”
“I don’t think I’d like that, man.”
“You get used to it.”
“Could be you can. But maybe not.”
“Well, it’s a good thing you don’t live there, then.”
“Where do you live?” I ask.
She turns and points west down I-22. “About a mile down there, like a block from Frank’s Bar, in an apartment with just my mom and whoever her boyfriend is for that week or month.”
“That brown building? I’ve walked by there before.”
“Yeah, it ain’t much.” She shrugs. “But it’s home, ya know. It’s the one I’ve spent most of my life in.”
“You think that’s the description of home?”
“I don’t know for sure. But it seems like the right one.”
Silence for thirty seconds as our eyes wander away.
I take a deep breath.
“Say,” I start. “Why aren’t you in school? Didn’t classes start a week ago or something?”
She runs a hand through her hair. “Yeah. But I don’t need to go.”
“I don’t like it so much.”
“And your mom doesn’t make you?” I wonder aloud.
“Nah. She says it’s my choice. She says I can do what I want if I’m happy with it, and school don’t make me happy.”
I smirk. “Wish my parents woulda thought like your mom.”
“Everyone says that.”
“Cos it’s fucking true.”
Cars whiz by on I-22 to leave out the other end of the town.
Then she says, “Well . . . I should be getting home now. My work is done for the day.”
I hate the way she says that so casually too. It makes me a little insane. It really does. Because she’s so adorable and little and sweet, yet nothing about working at the A-Lot is even close to fucking cute. But there’s something about her. A toughness. A playbook. An attitude that somehow makes it okay, I guess. It does and it doesn’t, and I’m not trying to let her go just yet so I ask:
“What are you gonna do at home?”
“Probably drink some beers. Play some records I got yesterday.”
“What records did you get?”
“Queens of Noise by—”
“The Runaways,” I snap, cutting her off.
Another big smile. “Fucking right,” she says.
“Happy Sad by Tim Buckley.”
“And Funky Divas by—”
“En Vogue,” I say, interrupting her again.
“Wow. You know your shit. I really fucking like that.”
“And you got some great fucking taste.”
She winks. “I’ve got great fucking everything, man.”
I laugh. “Is that so?”
She winks again. “It sure fucking is.”
My heart is so on fucking fire for her right now.
But then she says, “So, anyway, I’m gonna head back.”
This statement makes me tense up and ache all over again. I don’t want her to leave, but I ain’t trying to see her tonight either. I have band practice. But, still, something about being apart from her suddenly makes me nervous and paranoid.
“You okay, man?” she asks.
“Totally. Just thought of something.”
“I don’t know your name.”
“I don’t know yours, either.”
I hold my hand out and she shakes it. “Alexander,” I say.
“That’s such a cute name,” she says. “Cute fucking boy with a cute fucking name.”
“Why, thank you.”
Our hands drop back to our sides, and she goes, “Alexander, my name is Patti. Patti Smith.”
“Patti Smith? Really? Is that really your name?”
“Yup. It’s the one I go by, anyway.”
I laugh. “I like it.” Pause. “Actually, I love it,” I finish.
“Well, Patti Smith. I guess I’ll see you around, then?”
She nods with a hint of excitement. “Yeah,” she says. She stops and looks back over her shoulder. “See ya around, Alexander.”
She giggles, and I wave bye and cross the street. When I get to the other side, I look back, and Patti Smith, she’s looking back at me.