I called the video store across the street from my Dad’s veterinary clinic to see if they had a copy of Forrest Gump. They didn’t. I asked them if they could hold the next copy of Forrest Gump that came in. They said that they would. I thanked them. I couldn’t wait to see Forrest Gump. That done, I felt thirsty.
I went across the street. Passed someone in the phone booth making a call. That guy’s name was Steve, and I was pretty sure that Steve had the face of someone who used drugs. I didn’t want to judge Steve too heavily, but it seemed like drugs would make your eyes bug out like that, and make your eyes red in a way that made it seem like the skin around your eyes and the corneas were the same color. His eyes reminded me of Mr. DiRinaldo’s eyes, both bug-eyed, but Mr. DiRinaldo’s eyes were yellow, as though his cigarettes had nicotine-stained his eyeballs, the amount he smoked made it seem feasible. I know now that Mr. DiRinaldo was likely in some advancing stage of liver failure, and the bilirubin barely had anywhere to go but the eyeballs. His eyeballs wanted out of that body, bugging the eyes out. But they were stuck. I waved at Steve in the phone booth. Steve didn’t know who I was. Further up the street I saw a large group of people. All girls. A horde of Honey Brook girls, all staggering around.
I walked through the parking lot to Coastal, the convenience store. I’d finished a problem set of my math book and wanted a soda. I didn’t have any other school work to do that day so walking over there in Converse one stars felt like walking around in slippers, and walking across the parking lot felt like walking across shag carpet in slippers.
I said “Hi” to Sandy at the counter and went to the back beverage freezer. I knew that I was going to have a Clearly Canadian soda, but I didn’t know if I was going to have a Cherry or Blackberry. It turned out that I was going to have a Cherry. I opened the soda and took a drink and then walked over to the magazines and took a Mad Magazine down. I wasn’t going to buy Mad Magazine. I became engrossed in Mad’s take on Indecent Proposal, even though I could only infer the premise of the satire’s target, since at fourteen I hadn’t seen the movie. Twenty years later I still haven’t seen Indecent Proposal. To be honest, I don’t know if I’ll ever see Indecent Proposal. Sometimes I think I might live my whole life and never see Indecent Proposal. Some life. I have a feeling from a vague recollection of the caricatures that Woody Harrelson is in that movie.
“What kind of smut are you looking at?” Sandy said it in a harsh voice, right behind me, carrying some paper towels to stock the shelves, and I whipped around, but she was smiling. I wasn’t looking at anything especially smutty, but I had the feeling that my parents weren’t okay with Mad Magazine, and I knew that I shouldn’t read magazines that I wasn’t going to buy. Sandy’s expression and my expression were trying to navigate each other, but we were missing. She didn’t want me to feel bad, so she dropped the smile, and I felt bad, but by the time I saw that she was smiling I wanted her to not know that I felt bad. We both ended up feeling bad. “Sorry!” Sandy said.
I went to the front counter to pay for my soda, and when I did, the staggering horde of Honey Brook girls came in. The group was various. Various races, ages, and so on. A few of the girls looked at me in a way like the important part of them looking at me was me noticing that they were looking at me. I wanted to leave Coastal, the convenience store. The girls stood around and looked at Fifth Avenue bars, Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets, Warheads, and Cry Baby sour bubblegum. I took my change and left.
When I left the store, somehow the girls all silently decided to leave with me. It was amazing, like watching a murmuration of starlings evade a hawk, the way they all moved together.
“Hey,” the girls said to me.
“Hi,” I said to the girls.
“What are you doing?” the girls said.
“I’m going back over to my dad’s clinic,” I said.
“Oh,” they said. “Doctor Stevenson is your dad?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“He fixed our cats,” the girl said.
“Oh,” I said. “Like spay and neuter?”
The girls shrugged.
“You should hang out with us,” the girls said.
“Oh,” I said. “Oh.”
“You don’t want to hang out with us?” the girls said.
I didn’t want to hang out with them. They could tell.
“You don’t think we’re cute?” the girls said.
It was a huge group of girls, and I did think that some of them were cute, but I didn’t want to hang out with them.
“That’s not . . .” I said. “I just think I’ve got a lot of stuff to do. In my dad’s clinic. Work and everything.”
“You work there?” the girls said.
“I have to check and see if I’ve got work to do,” I said.
I started to walk back across the street, waving to them.
“Bye,” I said.
“We’ll come with you,” the girls said.
I nodded and tried to act like I thought this was good news.
“You can check and see if you have work to do, and if you don’t, you can hang out with us,” the girls said.
I walked across the street with the girls. I didn’t know if I should walk with the girls, or in front of them. I didn’t know quite how to pace myself walking across the street. I walked slightly in front of them and they followed me across the street, surrounding me like a cloud.
I went up the short flight of stairs into the clinic.
“I’ll check,” I said to the girls.
I closed the door. I just stood there behind the closed door. The front door had a piece of corrugated plastic behind the pane to bend and obscure the view through the glass. I walked a little further in, so it wouldn’t just look like I was standing there, waiting for enough time to elapse so I could open the door again and lie to the girls about all the work my dad had for me to do, and how sorry I was that I couldn’t hang out with them.
I opened the door and lied to them.
“What’s your name?” they said.
I hesitated and then told them my name.
“Now we know your name and we’ll come back sometime and see if you can hang out.”
I shut the door. The phone rang. I picked up the phone. It was the video store across the street calling to let me know that they’d gotten a copy of Forrest Gump in and I could pick it up whenever. I walked into the waiting room of the clinic tentatively. The girls were still out there staggering around the parking lot, standing there, variously. I couldn’t go across the street to the video store. The girls stayed there until it was dark. My dad noticed them out there in between clients.
“Do you know what they’re doing out there?” he said.
“No,” I said.
He went out and told them they had to leave because they couldn’t loiter on a business’s property like that. They cleared off slowly.
Eventually they were gone long enough that I could go pick up my copy of Forrest Gump. I walked back across the parking lot, with a videotape inside a clear, smooth, plastic case. That night I would watch Forrest Gump and not think about the girls following me like a pack of wolves and be happy.