Like Magic
Author: Annabel

Chapter 2
Swaybees and A Date At Rosland's

Pulling up the driveway, I realize that my best friend is parked on the street outside my house, sitting in her car. I stuff the last couple fries in my mouth as Lia jumps out and sneaks into the house.
    Scarlett spots me and I meet her by the curb. Her eyes are bloodshot and rubbed raw.
    I don't even bother to ask, instead just pull her into a hug. She'll want to give me the whole story, which will take a while, so I want to wait until we're inside, sitting down. No doubt it's about Josh, her longtime boyfriend. I feel her gently begin to sob on my shoulder and I pull back and beckon her into the house.
    She follows me back to my room and before I even get the door closed, she's collapsed onto my bed, bawling.
    "He just… I can't… oh god…" she blubbers.
    "I know," I say, sympathetically while setting my bags by my closet.
    A few minutes later, she's in full-on story mode: Josh and her are arguing over him talking to other girls. She thinks he's cheating but he's claiming up and down that he wouldn't ever do such a thing. Apparently their conversation ended with him hanging up on her and so she headed over here for advice. As always.
    This is why I don't date. It's too much emotion for something so petty and pointless. Only trouble that isn't worth the heartache.
    "So anyways, I guess I was wondering if you'd go out somewhere with me tonight to keep my mind busy? Maybe we could talk Jared into letting us into Swaybees..." Scarlett asks.
    Jared is the perverted bouncer at Swaybees. Swaybees is a raunchy bar downtown with cheap drinks. I don't like either of them.
    My thoughts quickly scan through my mental list of excuses. "Scar, I'm sorry but Mom wants me here with Lia because she might go back into the office."
    Scarlett visibly slumps. "Okay…"
    "You could always hang here for a while though," I suggest. I wouldn't mind her company, I just don't want to deal with drunken men in order to see her.
    She shakes her head. "Nah, I guess I'll just go home and watch a movie or something. Thanks anyways, Claire."
    I get up, stretch, take the pony tail out of my hair, and empty my pockets into my desk. Scarlett sees the tampon ad with the phone number I forgot I had and snatches it up.
    "Who's Nathen?" she asks, raising an eyebrow.
    I take the ad and crumple it in my fist. "No one," I say, tossing it into my trash bin.
    My best friend rolls her eyes as she picks up her purse. "I'm gonna take off."
    "Okay, are you headed home?" I don't want her going to Swaybees alone.
    "Maybe, maybe not."
    I leave it at that and give her a hug. She goes out to her car where I watch her pull away from my bedroom window.

****


    After dinner, I find myself laying on my bed, which is still completely made, staring at the ceiling.
    I'm regretting not going with Scarlett to Swaybees because the third World War just erupted over the dinner table. Lia hasn't stopped screeching at Mom for over an hour. Of course, mom is crying and yelling back. I don't understand why they can't just leave each other alone.
    "You're such a controlling bitch!" Lia shouts, her angry words mingling with moms soft sobs.   
    "Lia, you don't even try to get along with me. You're too difficult," Mom declares in a strained pitch.
    "You're nuts," Lia snorts, "Just let me be." I hear silence then light footsteps padding down the basement stairs. I swear to God, these walls are paper thin, I think.
    A comforting silence blankets the house, leaving me content that the war is over for now. Mom's most likely in the bathroom getting ready to get in the shower. It's like ritual, after every fight, Mom showers and Lia goes to bed.
    I roll over and pick up my cell phone, feeling antsy.
    It's only a little after eight, maybe Scarlett hasn't left yet. I punch in her number and press send. The phone doesn't even ring-- just goes straight to voicemail.
    "Hey, it's Scar, I'm busy right now. Leave a message," Her voice tells me. I shut my phone without following her instructions. She turned her phone off, so either her and Josh are already happy again or she left it at home when she went out. No way of knowing, I guess.
    Uncomfortable and bored, I flip to my side, giving me a full view of my bedroom. The first thing I see is the tampon ads' crumpled edge sticking out of my hot pink trash bin. I forgot completely about the guy at the mall. What was his name? It started with an "N". Nelson? Hell, his name could have been Nash for what I remember.
    I go over to the bin and pull out the wrinkled magazine page. Nathen, it says, with a phone number and a smiley face. That rings a bell and his winking face topped with a mass of curly brown hair flashes to mind.
    I look down at the number and try to decide if I'm this desperate for company. It couldn't hurt, he really wanted to talk to me. I dial his number and the phone starts to ring as I settle back into my computer chair.
    "Yellow?" he answers on the third ring.
    "Hi, it's me, Claire," I say, surprised at how shy my voice sounds.
    "Claire! Hi! I knew you'd call! I'm just so irresistible," he declares and I hear someone let out a chuckle in the background. "You wanna meet up somewhere? How's a late dinner?" he asks me making me regret calling him. Nate is really rushing into things. Wasn't talking on the phone enough?
    "Well, I don't know. You could be a rapist or a killer. I have no idea who you are," I say, wondering why I called him in the first place.
    "Hmm, I don't know you either. You could be working for the FBI or get kicks torturing things," he replies matter-of-factly.
    "Ha," I say sarcastically. So far, conversations with this guy tend to go in circles.
    "The only way to find out is to take the first step. Meet me for dinner?" he asks again, persistent.
    I never take any risks, too safe.
    "Fine," I say, giving in, feeling a rush of excitement at choosing to do the exact opposite of what my mind tells me. "When and where?"
    "The old diner downtown. It's called Rosland's I think. Good food, cheap," he says, sounding like he had this planned all along. How many girls does he give tampon ads to?
    "I'll be there," I say confidently, before telling him goodbye and pressing the end button.
    After I obsess about what to wear (regardless if I like the guy or not, technically it's still a date) and giving mom a lame excuse, I jump into the car, headed for Rosland's.

****


    Swaybees is on the way to Rosland's diner so I impulsively decide to stop by and see if Scarlett's there.
    I park in the side parking lot, away from the other vehicles. No need to have some wasted idiot peeing on my car.
    Jared's the only one outside when I walk up to the booming building. It's Friday night, so the local bands are playing live instead of just the usual stereo. In other words, the music is leaking out the cracks of the old building into the streets.
    "Claire, baby…" Jared looks me up and down like a cat assessing it's prey. I'm clad in a pair of red shorts and tank top. Not exactly what I'd typically wear to this place where I like to stick to high-collar tee shirts and jeans most of the time. "I figured I'd see you tonight…" he states slowly, words dripping in lust.
    I curl my lip in disgust. "You're such a dog."
    He grins easily.
    "Is Scarlett here or not?" I cross my arms.
    Jared's grin gets more pronounced. "Oh, yeah… she's inside." He opens the door for me to get in and as I walk past, I feel his filthy fingers on my butt. I turn around to sock him in the mouth, but the door's already closed.   

****


    Scarlett is hidden at a table in the back with a guy at least ten years older than us. The slime ball has his hand on her thigh as she tips her head back, downing the last of her drink.
    When she sees me, her face turns bright red and she excuses herself from the conversation.
    "He came up to me, I didn't start it," she explains as if I was already dialing Josh's number to let him know she was talking to another guy. I'm pretty sure she's only speaking for her own benefit though because we both know that I wouldn't ever tell on her.
    I grab her sweaty palm and pull her back through the crowd of people dancing and slopping beer all over the place. Once we wiggle our way into the bathroom, I turn to Scarlett and realize that she's had a quite a few drinks herself. The one she finished as I walked up wasn't her first. Or her second, apparently.
    "Are you drunk?"
    She rolls her eyes and puts her hand on the door handle to leave. "I don't need a lecture, Mom."
    I raise my hands to my hips. "That's what I thought. Are you here alone?"
    She doesn't reply, which gives me my answer. "How about I drive you home and you can get some sleep? You shouldn't be here alone."
    To this, she turns her back on me and leaves the bathroom. I fling open the door to a woman urgently trying to push her way past.
    By the time I'm back on the dance floor, Scarlett's nowhere to be seen. The guy she was sitting with has moved on to another girl who looks barely legal to drink, yet she's completely smashed, hardly staying on her feet. From the looks of it, the guy hasn't really had much alcohol himself, he's just looking to pick up a young girl.
    There are plenty others like him, too.
    I do a few more circles around the building, trying to pick my best friend out of the crowd but can't see her anywhere. Giving in, I exit through the back door so I don't have to face Jared again and try to remind myself that Scarlett can take care of herself without me.

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