Lee’s stomach grumbled.
She evaluated her options. She could’ve gone home and grab something from there, but it was so far away and she didn’t feel like cooking. She could’ve gone and eaten out, but her family was in a state of perpetual poverty and she wasn’t getting much allowance-wise. But there was a third option.
She climbed over a fence and walked up to the kitchen door of the first house on the block. The lock quickly gave way to a pair of bobby pins. She entered the building and noticed a jar of pickles on the table.
“Jackpot.” the girl grinned. She grabbed the jar from the table, put her hand on the lid and twisted it. Well, attempted to, as - to her chagrin - she wasn’t able to get a decent grip.
After a few failed attempts, she put the jar away with a growl and then ran to the garage. She returned after a moment with a monkey wrench in his hand. After firmly attaching it to the lid, she grabbed the jar by the glass part and attempted to push the handle, to no avail.
Fuming with rage, she ran back to the garage and returned to the kitchen with a chainsaw. She pulled the cord a few times in an attempt to start it, mumbling curses to hersel-
“What are you doing in my house?!”
She turned to see Edd, who only just realized attracting the attention of a chainsaw-wielding Kanker is something that people put in obituaries.
“I’m hungry, and I’m trying to open this godforsaken jar of pickles.” she answered, and gave the cord another pull.
“Are you- do you require...” he paused, looking for the right words, “...assistance in this matter?”
Lee snorted. Then, after noticing he was completely serious, she laughed out loud. “Yeah, sure, why not.” Snickering, she handed the jar to him, ready to watch the show. The boy firmly grabbed the jar, tapped the side of the lid against the counter a few times, and then handed it back to the girl. Realizing that she’s about to be a punchline of this short story, she grabbed the lid and gently turned it, opening the jar.
Deciding to bite his tongue. Edd just reached into the jar and pulled out a pickle, then gestured at the girl to do the same.
“I almost had it.” she said.
“The chainsaw was out of fuel.”
Marie closed the door behind herself with just enough force to be loud, and not enough force to be reprimanded. Stupid detention, stupid asshole giving her funny looks during recess and stupid teacher getting all in her grill about the unneeded and overblown reaction. Marching down the corridor, she glanced at the clock on her hand-me-down phone. 3:38 PM - the school bus was out of the question, and the next public transport bus back to Peach Creek would come in fifty-two minutes. Unlike her junior high, the high school was too far away to consider going there by foot, unless you had an hour and a half to spare. She might’ve as well wait.
The stop wasn’t that far from the school grounds. The only bus going through it was going to Oltasheen, Victory Str., wherever that was, via Peach Creek. Marie sat down on the bench, pulled out her cell phone and launched Snake, ready to kill the next fifty minutes with a stupid mobile game. After a few minutes of chasing food pellets, she heard the sound of a vehicle stopping in the bus turnout, definitely lighter than a bus. She raised her eyes and saw a red subcompact parked in front of her, the front door being opened by the teen inside pressing a button on his dashboard.
“Hi, sweetie.” she said to the driver.
“Greetings, Marie.” Edd replied. “Detention again?”
“Yup.” she pocketed her phone. “And you just happened to be in the neighborhood with a car. Convenient.” She crossed her arms with a grin. ” A regular Deus Edd Machina.”
The boy didn’t grace that pun with a reaction. “I have planned to visit the library after class, hoping to find some interesting books, and that is why I didn’t come by school bus. If you think I have done that purely for your sake, you are mistaken.”
“Yeah, yeah, stop pretending to be so aloof, cutie pie.”
Edd frowned. “Cease this behaviour immediately.”
“Or else what?”
Instead of replying, the boy released the parking brake and angrily shifted the car into first gear. Marie watched as the car took off, the side door closing itself in motion. With a frown, she pulled out her phone and dialled a number. After a few tones, Edd picked up the call.
“I do know I crossed a line and I feel bad about it.” Marie said, in what she thought was a sincere tone.
“Of course you do.” Edd replied, with what she thought was sarcasm.
“Will you get back and give me a lift if I promise to shut up?”
A brief pause followed. “I need to think about it.”
“You just did. I see the car stopped.”
“I don’t have a hands-free set, and driving while having a phone call is-”
“Whatever. Just wait for me there.”
The girl hid her phone and marched towards the red vehicle. She expected it to speed away at the last moment, leaving her behind in a dust cloud, but as she was closing the distance, the car remained in the same spot, with the driver tapping the steering wheel, impatient. Marie opened the front door on the passenger side and got in.
“Just drop me off somewhere in Peach Creek.” she said.”I’ll walk to the park.”
“Seat belts.” Edd said. The girl buckled up and the car took off.
For a moment, the Kanker tried amusing herself by watching the surroundings. It got boring almost instantly; the boy was taking the same route as the school bus, so there was nothing new to see. She decided to focus on the car’s interior instead, and found it somewhat interesting. “Is the ride new?”
“Used.” the boy replied, his eyes still on the road. “Acquiring a new car only to have it potentially damaged due to my inexperience seemed wasteful. The lower price was also a factor, and its simpler construction allows me to make minor repairs myself, if need be. The automatic doors were a passion project.”
“Always so boringly rational.” Marie chuckled in amusement. “Have you ever done something spontaneous in your life?”
“There was this one time where I picked up a girl of questionable morality because she promised to remain silent.” Edd snarked.
“Aw, c’mon,” the girl put on the most innocent smile she had, “what did I ever do to you?”
Instead of responding, Edd slid his hand on the dashboard, into the glove compartment, and pulled out a small notebook, its pages not larger than his hand. There was a label on the cover, not unlike the ones in the boy’s room, reading “MARIE K.”. He handed the notebook to the girl, his eyes still focused on the road ahead. “Here’s a comprehensive list.”
She flipped through the handbook. “Why do you even have that thing?”
“Because I was aware that, at some point, you would make that argument, either in jest or in earnest.” Edd replied. “When you’re done reading, please put it back in the glove compartment.”
“Uh, nnnnope!” Marie spun the window roller three-sixty degrees and threw the notebook out of the car. “Neither of us needs it.”
Edd very briefly glanced at her, then parked the car on the side of the road and scanned the surroundings. They were in the middle of nowhere, with some unkempt grass growing on the sides, separated from the roadway by rickety wooden fences. Some single-family homes could be seen in the distance.
“Don’t tell me you’re going to go back and pick that up.”
Sticking to the letter of Marie's request, Edd unbuckled himself and attempted to get out of the car, only to get his head slammed against the steering wheel. After a few seconds of pressing the horn button with his face, he sat up and noticed the vacant passenger seat next to him and someone - well, you didn’t need above-average smarts to guess who - running back towards the notebook.
Checking that the stun baton was still in his trouser pocket, Edd slowly left the car, trying to look as unthreatening as possible. The girl was kneeling by the side of the road, distracted by something, so he allowed himself to take a few steps in her direction. When he was just a few steps away from the girl, he noticed she had a cheap plastic lighter in her hands and tried to ignite the notebook.
Marie sprung up, backing away, and whipped out a blackjack, prompting Edd to unholster his weapon as well.
“...upset by something?” he finished, his question answered.
The two stood there for a while, clubs drawn, before Edd pressed a button on his, causing it to fold up. “Please note I’m de-escalating the conflict.” He hid the weapon in his pocket. “Are you aware that you could have just asked me to dispose of the list if you feel bothered by it?”
“Yeah, right.” she spat. “And you woulda totally agreed.”
“How do you know I wouldn’t?” he asked. “True, I should probably tone down my passive-aggressiveness towards you, but for all it’s worth, I think I remain reasonable.”
“Alright, can I dispose of this because it makes me feel bothered then?”
“Yes.” Pause. “And if you insist on being dramatic, but your lighter doesn’t work, I can provide matches.”
After a moment needed to process the sentence, the girl wordlessly put away her blackjack, picked up the notebook from the ground and tried to make her lighter do its job. After a few clicks, the corner of one of the pages lit up. The flame moved across the page, spreading across the other pages and the cover. Marie threw it down on the road. Edd stood by her side, with his hands low and his fingers steepled, observing the situation to make sure fire won't spread. The two stood in silence for a long enough while, before the girl asked:
“What do you think about me?”
Edd raised his eyebrow. “Pardon?”
“Like, I can’t make heads or tails about your behaviour.” Marie elaborated. “What do you feel when you think about me?”
“Barely contained lust.” he deadpanned.
“Effin’ hilarious.” Marie replied, annoyed. “I'm serious, Double D. Oh, here's the trollop that had wasted years of her life ruining mine, I should give her a ride.” she said, mockingly posh. “Where's the logic in that, smarty pants?”
“I don’t sound like tha-”
Marie grabbed him by the shirt’s collar and pulled him closer. “Answer. The fucking. Question.”
“Since you asked so nicely.” Edd’s voice turned bitter. “In brief: there’s this irrational and emotional part of me that tells me that maybe, juuust maybe, if I cut down my snark and bile to a minimum and try and treat you with a modicum of respect, there is a faint chance of you reciprocating and behaving like a relatively moral human being.” He yanked his shirt out of her grasp. “Those thoughts usually last until the next molestation attempt or, say, until you bash my head against a steering wheel of my own bloody car.”
“Brit swears don’t make you sound classier.”
“Glad to see you focusing on the main point.”
“And what am I supposed to say about it? ‘Yep, I’m irredeemable, drag me behind the shed, and-’” She put two fingers to her temple and mimicked a recoiling gun. “Bang?”
“No, of course not!”
“Then what are my other options, Oven Mitt?”
Edd twitched. “Never use that nickname again.”
Marie crossed her arms. “Or else what, Oven Mittie?”
Edd’s fist clenched for a second or two. Then, it loosened back up, as he decided he was out of fucks to give. Even if the next remark was going to earn him physical retribution, it was a price he was willing to pay.
“You know what, on second thought, you should consider your proposed solution.”
The girl was blindsided by the remark. “Wha… what?!” she stammered.
“I mean, it is excessive.” Edd elaborated, preparing for a punch. “But when you are being told that your behaviour is irritating, and, dare I say, brings back painful memories,” he gestured towards the pile of burnt paper that used to be a notebook, “memories you were so keen to erase,” he raised his voice “the proper reaction of someone with a shred of self-reflection is shutting up and not rubbing it in, you lowest-income-bracket shameful excuse for a punk!”
He gave her a left hand salute, spun on his heel and marched back to his car, expecting to be hit with a blackjack at any moment. But alas, he reached the front left door and opened the vehicle undisturbed, when he turned around and saw the girl walking in the opposite direction, her head down.
He wasn’t going to be the better man this time, oh no. He entered the vehicle, pressed the clutch pedal, turned the ignition key all the way in, and released the parking brake. Then he grabbed the stick and, after a second to process all the conflicting thoughts in his brain, he sighed and shifted gear to reverse.
“I hate my sodding conscience.” he muttered to himself, then turned around to see through the rear window and lifted the left foot a bit. The car started rolling backwards, and he gently pressed the horn button to draw the girl’s attention. She turned around and, after realizing the continuous sound was addressed at her, walked to the driver’s window and knocked on it. Edd stopped the car, then lowered the glass pane half an inch.
“Are you aware this isn’t the correct direction?”
“Thank you, GPS, but the bus stop over there is closer.”
“Alternatively,” the boy paused for a split second, “we can go back to the initial idea of me giving you a lift to Peach Creek.”
“You told me to kill myself, like, a minute ago.” Marie replied, nonplussed.
“Which was reprehensible and inexcusable.” Edd looked aside. “I crossed a line and I feel ashamed about my behaviour. I’m sorry.”
“You know what? You’re a pussy.” she spat, poking the pane. “A spineless wet noodle hoping that if you maybe just float through your life and be this naive meek goody-two-shoes bangable passive aggressive nerd you’re by default, things will somehow turn out alright and you don’t have to take a stand at any point in that gutter crawl you call your life.”
Edd tapped the steering wheel with his fingers. “Main point of this diatribe aside, I am positive ‘bangable’ isn’t a word.”
“Shut up and open the door.”
“Shut up and open the motherfucking door, please.”
With an eye roll, Edd pressed the button on the dashboard. The girl got into the shotgun seat and buckled herself. The car took off and the two remained silent for the next minute or so, only exchanging a few glances in the rear view mirror. Just silence, with nothing but the quiet hum of the engine.
“You’re planning some disproportionate retribution for as soon as we enter Peach Creek, aren’t you?” Edd piped up.
“No I’m not.” Marie protested.
“Then why are you so silent?”
“Because if I push your buttons some more, you’re gonna turn the car around or something.” She crossed her arms. “It’s pragmatism.”
“So,” the boy replied, stretching the last letter a bit, “if I understand how you understand pragmatism, the moment we get to your destination, I stop being useful and-”
“You ever heard that song called Shut Up And Drive?” she snapped. After a brief moment of silence, she asked “Do I seriously deserve that level of… what’s the opposite of trust?”
Despite having multiple responses to that question, Edd replied with a short “I’m afraid so. And the word is ‘distrust’.“
“Shoulda guessed that.” she muttered. “But c’mon, there has to be something I can do to get some leeway.”
The boy let out something between a low growl and a prolonged sigh. The car took a left into a gravel road leading to Park ‘n’ Flush. “How honest can I be with you?”
Edd repressed a wince caused by the mangled superlative. “You might doubt that, but I really, really, really want to tell you there’s a chain of actions that would make you… redeem yourself in some way. Alas, there’s no such thing.” The car slowed down to a halt, and the boy switched to neutral and pulled the handbrake. “Even if you will try to turn your life around in this very moment, you will have to with the fallout of your actions over the past few years.” He pulled out the stun baton from his pocket and started expanding and retracting it in his hands. “And with all respect, I cannot even promise my own support, because...” A pause. “...you know what you did.”
Marie rolled her eyes. “Geez, I didn’t rape you or anything.”
“Are you familiar with the term ‘damned by faint phrase’?” Edd pocketed his weapon. “Anyway, I think we’re close enough for you to walk home.”
“I suppose.” The girl unbuckled herself and reached into her pocket. Noticing the boy reaching for his, she muttered “I’m reaching for cash.”
“Why?” Edd asked, his hand still hovering.
“Gas money.” She pulled out a few coins and tried to figure out if they add up to something meaningful.
“It is unnecessary, Marie.” the boy reassured. “My parents are covering my car-related expenses, and-”
Marie grabbed him by the wrist and shoved the coins into his hand. “Then you’ll take this cash and buy yourself some jawbreakers, or whatever you like to eat nowadays, Sockhead.” After a pause, she added “Is-is it fine? For me to call you Sockhead.”
“Yes, I suppose.”
“Great. See ya soon, Sockhead.” She got out of the car, slamming the door behind herself. Then, she re-opened it. “Y’know, if you ever get in some sorta trouble and need someone punched, I’m on your side.”
“You don’t take sides, Marie, you just take opportunities.” He shifted his car in reverse. “Now if you’ll excuse me, Ed and Eddy are probably getting worried. Adieu.”
The girl closed the door and watched the boy do a three-point turn, then speed away - or at least accelerate to 30 miles per hour faster than he did before. Dejected, she turned around and marched towards the trailer.