by Elizabeth McGuire
“Does that look like a cherry?” Amber asked. We’d never spoken so I was totally unprepared. My heart pounded as she leaned over the counter, and I got a big puff of patchouli oil and cinnamon gum. Her nails were painted like little cupcakes with white icing, and her index finger, aimed at me, had a tiny red dot on the end.
I stop in the Game Stop almost every day after school. Mostly because of Amber. She was a sophomore at the high school, had a magenta stripe in her hair and fingers covered with rings. Around her neck she wore a leather strand with a miniature silver sword that opened up into nail file. She had style.
Amber worked seven days a week which took the guesswork out for me. She was always there, sitting on the high stool behind the counter, usually talking on the phone. Blowing on her nails. Balancing while she did her toes.
“That’s a perfect cherry.” I choked, my face turning scarlet. My voice was too loud and high, like a balloon seeping air.
She slid off the stool and shuffled towards the door. Unaware of the weight of the words that had just passed between us. Unaware of how much I cared. She stopped on the sidewalk out front and stood there with her arms up like a crossing guard. She wobbled a little. For me, talking to Amber was a whole new ball game.
A few weeks later, I turned thirteen. She hadn’t spoken to me since the day she asked about her cherry nail, but we’d had long conversations in my head.
I walked into the shop, planning to tell Amber it was my birthday. I pictured us celebrating together somehow. Maybe I’d ask her to go to Frost Top or Harvey’s for some fries.
Instead, Jimmy Deerflinger was sitting in her chair. I sort of knew who he was because he grew up in town and was the same age as my mom. Once he tried to join the Marines but got rejected for bad vision. He wasn’t on the phone; he was just sitting there watching Price is Right through greasy glasses. Deerflinger didn’t notice me. He didn’t ask me any questions. His arms were folded on top of his pouched out stomach.
“Where’s Amber?” I asked, peering over the counter.
“Gone,” he said, without taking his eyes off the T.V. “Get used to it kid,” he added after a pause. He was half smiling, like an inside joke, and I wasn’t sure if the joke was on me or Price is Right.
He stood up and picked up the keys from the open drawer of the cash register.
“I’m closing early,” he said.
I wandered out of the shop and cut across the empty lot towards home. It started to drizzle and I felt little pecks of rain stinging the back of my neck as I walked. I looked up and let them collect on my cheeks, like tears without really crying.
My throat ached a little and I was starving. It was getting dark and close to dinner time. I remembered seeing a Pillsbury Plus box on the counter when I left for school, so I was hoping there’d be a cake by the time I got home. Jimmy Deerflinger definitely knew about me and Amber. About our relationship. About how much I cared. And starting tomorrow, I was going on fourteen.
Elizabeth McGuire is a writer from Chicago. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Burningword, Hermeneutic Chaos, The Monarch Review, Gravel and others. She is currently at work on her first novel.