by Wayne Scheer

Danny knew Cindy started her day at Starbucks, so he found a parking spot across the street and waited. When the 7:20 bus screeched to a halt, Cindy stepped down wearing white shorts and a loose red top that stopped a few inches above her navel ring. The outfit didn’t seem right for school, even cosmetology school, but she looked too good for him to care.

She began walking toward the coffeehouse, an oversized knapsack slung over one shoulder. His heart pounded like it had stopped backing up his body’s other organs and taken a solo.

Two short honks and she turned and waved, as if she knew he would be there – as if nothing had happened.

She strolled across the street like a runway model, sashaying to the driver’s side window. When she bent down to talk, Danny saw that she wasn’t wearing a bra. He struggled to not let his eyes wander. Cindy smiled to let him know it was all right.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

“Waiting for you.”

She scrunched her lips to one side in a familiar pose.

Danny wanted to kiss her, but he knew he better not. “I thought we should talk,” he said.

“I guess.”

“You want to go for a ride?”

“My first class starts at 8:10.”

“Then let me drive you to school. We could talk in the parking lot.”

She acted like she was thinking about it. “Okay, but I need some coffee. Let me just run in. It’ll only take a minute.”

“No need.” He showed her his thermos. “Black with enough sugar to cause instant diabetes. Just the way you like it.”

She laughed and walked around to the passenger side, throwing her knapsack in the back. He handed her the thermos.

“What do you have in that sack? It’s huge.”

She ignored his question and poured her coffee. “Mmm,” she said, licking her lips. “You know just how I like it.”

Danny took a deep breath. “Sorry I had to ambush you like this, but I knew if I went to your house or called, your parents would throw a fit.”

“Yeah. They’re mad at you for corrupting their little girl. I had to promise them I wouldn’t see you, even if you begged.”

“My folks think you’re the bad influence. My therapist said I need space to decide for myself.”

She slid closer and kissed his cheek. “So how are you?”

“I’m better. Three weeks in detox will do that to you. Did you get my texts?”

“Yeah, I did. But I couldn’t answer. My parents, you know.”

He drove slowly to show how responsible he was. It was only a few blocks to the cosmetology school, but he hoped to stop at every light. He had almost forgotten how good she smelled. Coconut shampoo.

“You look good, Danny. I missed you.”

Hearing her say his name made his heart pound again. “I missed you, too.” He paused. “But we can’t…I have to get my head on straight.”

He signaled to turn into the school’s parking lot.

“Maybe we can drive a little more,” she said, placing a hand on his thigh. “We can talk.”

“Sure…” He tried to deep breathe. “I’ll just drive a few more blocks and turn around.”

I have a better idea. Let’s go to the beach.”

“The beach?” His voice cracked like he was thirteen again. “What about school?” 

He recalled talking to the therapist at the rehab facility about the crazy ideas Cindy got and how he went along with them, as if she took over his mind. She was the one who introduced him to coke. Until then, all he had ever done was weed and some pills now and then.

“You sound like my father – ‘What about school?’

She tightened her grip on his leg.

He took a moment to consider the situation, breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth, just like they had taught him at the facility. “We don’t have bathing suits or a blanket or anything. We can’t just go to the beach.”

“I have a blanket in my knapsack. Suntan lotion and weed. We don’t need bathing suits. We can go to the nude beach at Haulover.”

“Haulover. Are you kidding? Miami’s almost two hours from here.”

“So?” She moved her hand a little higher on his thigh. “You have better plans for the day?”

“No, but….”

The therapist, his parents, everybody, had warned him to stay away from her. He knew it was good advice, but his first morning home, he slipped out of the house like a bitch in heat. Then it hit him. She had this all planned. The blanket, the weed, the clothes she wore. She knew his first day home, he’d come panting after her.

He was a fool, a weak fool. He grabbed her hand and pulled it from his leg.

“That hurt...”

He wanted to hurt her, to show her he was in control of his life. But he understood hurting her didn’t make sense. He just wanted to get away.

He looked for a way to turn around and take her back to school, but the first street he came to ran one way in the wrong direction. The sign for I-441 to Miami loomed just ahead, taunting him.

Meanwhile, she reached around to her knapsack and pulled out a plastic baggie. He saw right away it was filled with weed and rolling papers. She waved it in his face. “You just need to mellow out, Danny.”

Damn. This was how he got so crazy and ran off with her to California. When they came back, he was so drugged out his parents committed him while she went back to playing Daddy’s Little Girl.

“Keep that shit away from me….

She waved it at him, holding it with two fingers and swinging it like a hypnotist’s watch. “Come on, it’s just a little weed.”

He slapped at the bag and it opened. Buds flew everywhere.

“Hey, do you know how much this cost me?” She undid her seat belt so she could reach on the floor and under her seat. She scooped up a pile of weed and slid it back into the bag. But the bag was ripped and more fell out. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. She stamped her feet.

Danny stopped at a light. He wanted to jump out of the car and run away. Get as far away from her as possible. He couldn’t breathe. He felt like his head was bursting open, scattering his brain into thousands of tiny pieces.

He pushed his foot to the accelerator just as the light changed and turned the wheel as fast as he could to make a U-turn, despite oncoming traffic. Brakes squealed, and the car went into a tailspin. Cindy, out of her seat belt, flew from one side to the other.

He could hear her screaming. But as he came out of the spin, he never felt more in control.