An Unfinished Dialogue

"Are you sure you donít want any help?"

His hands gripped the steering wheel. "I told you no. Just relax."

"Listen, man. I can drive if youíre too high. Weíve passed Holland Road about a million times now."

"Jesus! I said relax! I just have to pass this jerk so I can turn next time around. Itís not like sheís going anywhere without us."

"Whatever," I said and slumped in my seat. An old Clapton tune was on the radio. I started to sing along in my stoned stupor, the guitar a living thing in my head. Jed clicked it off with an insolent look.

"What the hell? Whatís your problem? Youíve been an asshole ever since we left to get Melissa. I paid for the damn tickets. Youíre not losing any money if you donít want to go."

"Lay off me, Thomas. Itís not about the concert. Iíve got other stuff on my mind. Talk about something else or just shut up."

I was silent. Lit a cigarette. Holland Road had gone by again. I wanted to hurry and get Melissa before her dad got home. I didnít want to be roped into another conversation with him, hog-tied in an honorable promise concerning his daughter. Jed seemed to be driving laps around our destination.

"Did Mom talk to you about the thing with Aunt Liddy?" His eyes were shifty and his knuckles white on the steering wheel. Maybe the herb was making him paranoid.

"About last weekend? She didnít tell Mom did she?"

"No. She told Mom to keep an eye on us. That we were growing up fast and something about you and Melissa getting serious. She didnít say anything about the beer."

"Did she mention Gary or Will? Their parents would kill us if they found out."

"Naw. Not as far as I know. I donít think she has a bone to pick with them. I mean, Will paid her back after swiping that lawn ornament." Jed started to ease, laughed at the thought of Will smashing his auntís ceramic gnome on the driveway. Her mouth an ĎOí as she opened the screen door.

"Here, Jed. Go left here."

This was his first road trip in his new car. Iíd let him drive so Melissa and I could be alone. I decided to share a jay to loosen him up, told him that people would notice how nervous he was at the show. It would ruin the atmosphere.

Jed swerved into the left lane and onto Holland Road. Melissaís house lie ahead, her fatherís patrol car in the driveway.

"Great," I said. "Itís too bad you couldnít find her street the first three times. Now her dadís gonna ride me about the virtue of timeliness."

"Whatever. We couldíve left earlier but you were too busy Ďstylingí your hair." Quotation marks gripped the wheel.

"Itís better than your ugly mop, dumbfuck." I sat for a moment in the running car, trying to sober up and figure a way to put out my cigarette without Melissaís dad noticing. The front door opened and Melissa walked out. Her father was behind her, still in uniform.

"Hold this," I whispered, passing the cigarette to Jed, and stepped out of the car.

Jimís bald head in the sunlight was a bright as his badge. I prayed he didnít notice my reddened eyes, my untied shoe laces. Melissa smiled like the afternoon light.

"Hi," I said to her. Grinned stupidly.

"Well, son, I hope you know how I expect you to act around my daughter."

I tried to straighten up, look like I could bring her home in one piece.

"Dad," Melissa said, "You said you werenít going to do this!"

"The boy needs to know Iím a serious man, especially when it comes to you, young lady. Iíll say what I need to in order to get my point across." Jim fingered the billy club in his belt with a damaging smirk.

"Thatís no problem, sir. My brotherís here to make sure everything goes okay," I said. I pointed my thumb at the car and looked back the same moment as Jim, the same moment Jed flipped a burning butt from the driverís side window. I snapped my head back, kept talking, hoping that he didnít notice. Melissa spoke instead, saving me from paternal damnation.

"Listen, Daddy, Iím a big girl now. Weíre just going to a show in Merrillville. I promise to be home by one. If not Iíll call."

"Youíll be home by midnight, missy." Jim put on the cop face reserved for homeless drunks and kids bent on vandalism. He didnít know that I was practically both.

"Sure, Dad. Whatever." Melissa grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the car. I stopped to shake her fatherís hand. He gripped mine hard enough to hurt and shook his head at my limp salutation.

"Thank you, sir. Midnight, sir. I promise."


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