Read Streetlights Like Fireworks Online

Authors: David Pandolfe

Streetlights Like Fireworks (6 page)

Sure enough, V. Delvechio is one of the names listed on
the apartment intercom buttons. Apartment, 2-C. I push the button and wait.
When nothing happens, I try again. After a few seconds, I say, “Guess he’s not
home.”

Lauren shoots me a disappointed look. “You just said he
was home. You need to learn to trust your instincts.”

I shrug. “He’s not answering.”

“Doesn’t mean he isn’t home. Maybe he’s sleeping.”

Just then, I hear a woman coughing. She’s crossing the
parking lot in our direction carrying bags of groceries. She’s probably in her
forties, kind of worn out looking with dirty hair partially tied back while the
other half blows in the breeze. Apparently, she wore slippers shopping.

“I bet I can talk us inside,” I say.

“Go for it.”

As the woman walks up the steps, I smile. “Hi. We’re here
to visit my uncle.”

Her eyes flicker my way for just an instant. “Good for
you.”

“He’s not answering his buzzer,” I explain. “Do you think
maybe—”

“Whatever.” The woman unlocks the door and pushes past
us. I hold the door open and wait to be sure but she doesn’t look back as she
wanders down the hall.

Lauren mocks me with an exaggerated thumbs-up.
“Impressive. You worked her like a pro.”

“She really should be more concerned about her own
safety. We could be anyone. Just saying.”

“Hate to burst your bubble. You look totally
trustworthy.”

Is that a bad thing? I can’t tell by the way she says it.
“What about you?”

She takes a step back. “Look at me.”

Right, she’s still wearing her conservative
business-casual costume. “Actually, I think you look kind of scary that way.”

Lauren laughs. “I totally agree, but not to the slipper
lady. Besides, she just wanted to get inside and microwave something. Are we
going in or what?”

We climb the stairs to the second level and find a dingy
hall lined with closed doors. A low bass sound vibrates the floor and grows
louder as we approach Apartment 2-C.

“I guess that’s why he didn’t hear his buzzer,” Lauren
says. “Sounds like Victor’s into Eminem.” She knocks on the door and the music
cuts off inside the apartment. Footsteps approach the door.

Great, the back of my neck tingles. If it’s about
knocking on this door, a little more warning would have been nice. I can’t be
sure. Sometimes, it’s hours or even days before I find out. All the same, I
wonder if this isn’t the best door to be knocking on. I glance at Lauren but
she seems unconcerned. Still, I say, “Maybe we should—”

The door opens. “What’s up?”

Old Anthony’s son is not what I’d imagined. He’s way
younger, for one thing, probably in his late twenties. Old Anthony must still
have been having kids in his fifties. I also hadn’t imagined Victor being over
six feet tall with cornrows and muscular, heavily inked arms. If Victor has his
father’s smile, he isn’t sharing it at the moment.

“Are you Victor Delvechio?” I say, still hoping we may
have gotten things wrong.

“Maybe. Who are you?”

“Oh, sorry. I’m Jack and this is Lauren.”

Victor checks out Lauren, then turns back to me. “Look,
if this is about whatever religion you’re into, I’m good.”

He goes to close the door but I say, “It’s nothing like
that. We just wanted to ask about your guitar.” Even as I say it, I ask myself
what the hell I’m doing. That was the perfect moment to bail.

Victor shakes his head just slightly. “What guitar?”

“A Fender Telecaster you used to own.”

He thinks for a moment, then opens his door the rest of
the way. “No sense talking in the hall.”

Something tells me not to walk through that door. Just a
feeling which I ignore. I tell myself I’m being silly. After all, we’re the one
who knocked on it. And it’s not like Victor said or did anything hostile. A
moment later, we stand in his living room. Behind him, two guys sit watching
us—one white guy with a shaved head and a black dude with dreadlocks. Both of
them hold cigarettes, ribbons of smoke drifting up to a stained ceiling. The
shades are drawn, the reeking room dark except for the ceiling light. For some
reason, there’s a blanket draped over the coffee table.

“What do you have there, Victor?” Shaved Head says.

“These two religious kids want to ask me about something
I used to own.”

“Actually, we’re not—”

“Just kidding. Have a seat.” Victor gestures toward his
sofa.

Lauren’s eyes meet mine and I can tell she isn’t exactly
loving the situation. I lie to myself again. So, Victor and his buddies look
kind of creepy but probably they’re really nice guys. Who are we to judge?
Besides, what are we supposed to do, suddenly run out the door and back down
the hall? After all, we came here. Victor didn’t lure us into his apartment.

“Okay, sure,” I say. The way I figure it we won’t be
there long. I can talk us back out of there again within a minute or two.
Lauren and I cross the room and sit down as Victor remains standing. All eyes
are on us, so I try not to check out the covered coffee table. But there are
lumps beneath the blanket and I can’t help wonder why. On the floor, there’s a
scale and a box of baggies.

“So, what’s this about my old guitar?” Victor says. He
arches his back to stretch and his t-shirt stretches against muscle.

My eyes jump away from the scale and baggies. Definitely
better to pretend I didn’t notice that whole deal. “Oh, right,” I say. “The
Telecaster you used to own.”

Victor’s tone suddenly goes hard. “Why do you know
anything about something I used to own?”

I glance over at Lauren again. She’s holding what looks
like an old metal lighter that she must have found on the couch and picked up
out of nervousness. Her eyes are cast down as she stares at the worn carpet. I
bring my eyes back to Victor’s. “I just ended up with the guitar. Your father
said—”

“Why would you talk to my father? Are you checking up on
me or something?”

A drop of sweat trickles down my forehead. “It’s not like
that. It’s just—”

A grin spreads across Victor’s face. “Lighten up! I’m
just kidding around. All you religious kids are the same. Way too serious.”

This time, I don’t correct him about the religious thing.
Obviously, Victor is screwing with us. It isn’t like we’re supposed to enjoy
it. We’re the mice and the cat is playing. But how hungry is the cat?

“Okay, cool,” I say. “We should probably get going.
Thanks for—”

Victor shakes his head. “What’s the rush? We’re just
getting to know each other.” He turns to Lauren. “What’s your name, honey?”

Lauren’s eyes flash at Victor. “Not your honey.”

“She’s kind of hot when she’s pissed off,” Victor says to
his friends.

I stand up and Lauren does too.

“Okay, we’re leaving now,” I say.

Victor shakes his head again. “I’ll tell you when you’re
leaving.”

Lauren stares hard at Victor, still holding that lighter
in her hand. She keeps rubbing her thumb across its surface.

“Look, she’s checking me out.” Victor grins at his
friends, then eyes Lauren up and down. “Tell you what, babe. If you’re nice to
me, I’ll let you keep my lighter.”

Dreadlocks and Shaved head both laugh but Lauren doesn’t
even seem to notice. She keeps staring at Victor like she can see right through
him.

Victor cracks a smile but shifts on his feet like he’s
not quite sure what to do. “How about you stop doing that thing with your
eyes.”

“You took money from your father’s bank account,” Lauren
says, her tone flat and distant. “He didn’t want to think it was you.”

Victor frowns. “What the hell are you talking about?”

Oh, shit. Where are we going here? I try to get Lauren to
look at me but she doesn’t break her focus on Victor.

“You stole from your brothers too. When you were young.
You sold their things and they never saw them again.”

Victor sneers but Lauren is definitely getting under his
skin. He puts his hands in his pockets, then takes them right out again. He
steps back and cocks his head. “You need to stop talking.”

A moment passes in silence, then Lauren says, “What did
you do to your sister?”

“Shut the hell up, bitch.”

Lauren shakes her head. “Oh, you remember,” she says.
“Your sister definitely remembers.”

Victor’s eyes go cold like he’s looking inward, even as
that creepy smile splits his face again. “Okay, so the religious chick is
fucking insane!”

Victor’s words work as intended. Dreadlocks and Shaved
Head chuckle. But I get the feeling they won’t be forgetting what they just
learned about Victor anytime soon.

“Right?” Victor says. His eyes cut in my direction. “Holy
crap, bro. Your girlfriend’s a nut job.”

I ignore the part about Lauren being my girlfriend. “She
just knows things.”

“Okay, sure.” Victor rolls his eyes but it seems like his
tough guy act is barely holding up. I get the feeling he want us out of there
now as much as we want to leave. “Right, who cares. We have stuff to do. I got
the guitar from some chick in Charlotte. She worked at a bar. Now, fuck off and
get out of here.”

“What was her name?” Lauren says.

I can’t believe she has the nerve to keep pushing it. We
need to go, now.

“Susan Walker. Why the hell would it matter?”

“What’s the name of the bar?” Now, she’s glaring at
Victor like she’d tear him apart, given the chance. He can’t seem to break off
contact with her either.

“The Trolleyman,” he says. “You keep bugging me and I
swear—”

“We’re leaving.” I grab hold of Lauren’s arm and walk
toward the door.

“You better freaking leave,” Victor says.

Lauren keeps her eyes on Victor’s even as I drag her. She
doesn’t look away until he slams the door behind us.

We walk down the hall fast, neither of us speaking as I
keep waiting for Victor to change his mind and come flying out after us.
Lauren’s gaze remains fixed straight ahead, her brow creased with
concentration. While I never doubted she must have some sort of psychic
ability, now I’m stunned. I’ve never been around anything like that before. How
was it even possible? I have no doubt Victor is thinking the same thing.

As soon we get outside, Lauren stops when I expect her to
dash toward the van. She still grasps the lighter in her hand. She takes one
last look at it and throws it in a great arc out across the parking lot. Then
she takes something from her pocket. A cell phone.

“Is that—”

Lauren nods. “He left it next to his lighter. Idiot.”

“We don’t want that. Right?”

“Definitely. But something occurred to me.” She stabs at
the screen three times, then waits. When someone answers, she says, “I’m not
giving you my name. I just want you to know that three guys are dealing drugs
out of this location. In fact, right now they have it all out on a table in
their apartment. From there, I’m leaving it up to you.”

Lauren disconnects and then dials. Again, just three
numbers. She drops the phone behind a bush next to the front steps. “Just in
case,” she says. “Let’s get out of here.”

9

Imagining the Need
for Minty Breath

 

We drive out of the parking lot, neither one of us saying
anything as we put some distance between us and Victor’s apartment building.
We’re out of danger but my heart keeps beating fast as the adrenaline works its
way through my system. I feel buzzed from it and the sky seems bluer than
normal, the sun brighter. I still didn’t know what to do with what just
happened. It will be a long time before I forget those moments when it seemed
like Lauren stared right into Victor’s soul, seeing nothing but darkness. Sure,
I’ve had premonitions, sometimes even about bad things about to happen, but
I’ve never experienced that kind of insight. I definitely wouldn’t want to
either.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

Lauren takes a moment before answering. “Yeah. I’m fine.
What a creep. Just eye contact with that guy makes me wish I could take like
fifteen showers.”

I can’t help laugh but that might be part of the
adrenaline buzz too.

“Obviously, Victor has some very bad stuff going on,”
Lauren says. “He’s a really screwed up person.”

“You realize that could have gone really badly,” I say,
even though I’m not telling her something she doesn’t already know. Still, back
at Victor’s apartment it seemed like Lauren couldn’t have stopped even if she’d
wanted to, not once she’d locked on like that.

Lauren turns the corner, bringing us back out onto the
street with all the nice beach houses. “I guess so. But the feeling I got was
that Victor is all bluff. He’s a total slime ball, obviously, but he’s not
particularly violent. At least, I didn’t see anything.”

I have to ask. “Have you ever done anything like that
before? I mean, picked up on that much about a person just by holding
something?”

Lauren shakes her head. “That might have been a new
personal record. I guess maybe it was self-preservation.”

I think back to the night at the Coffee Grounds. “What
about that compass you asked me to hold? What kind of stuff do you get off of
that?

“That’s different,” Lauren says. “Hey, look at that.” She
points straight ahead.

I know she changed the subject on purpose. My gut tells
me it was just lucky timing for her when I look to see two cop cars cruising
toward us from the opposite direction. They roll past a moment later, not
exactly speeding but going fast enough to suggest they’re definitely on their
way to check something out.

“I honestly doubt they can do anything right now,” Lauren
says. “They’ll probably assume it was just some sort of crank call. But you
never know. If they weren’t keeping an eye on that guy before, hopefully
they’ll start.”

“That would be good,” I say. “Let’s hope that happens.”

I pull my phone from my pocket to check the time, afraid
there may have already been calls or texts from my parents. Something tells me
Mr. Wilhite will at least leave a message at the house. But it’s still early in
the day. My father’s at work, definitely. Who knows what my mother does during
the day. I think about shutting my phone off but leave it on vibrate for now.

“I guess we should probably head back, right?”

“Up to you,” Lauren says.

Is she serious? Especially, after what just happened it
seems like we should probably rethink things. “That was pretty freaking
dangerous.”

Lauren nods. “Yeah, it was. But I think it’s probably
safe to bet something like that won’t happen twice. Unless your guitar was just
popular with criminals for some reason.”

A good point, definitely. Still, I’d assumed she’d just
gotten bored and decided to take a joy ride using the Victor thing as an
excuse. Why does she even want to keep trying to return the guitar to the woman
I saw? Again, I think of the compass. The weight of it in my hand, those
seemingly random images. Yes, a feeling. I don’t have anywhere near the level
of “intuition” Lauren possesses, but I definitely get flashes of my own.
Obviously, since that’s why we’re riding along together in the first place.

I look out at people walking along the sidewalk, most of
them hauling beach gear of some sort. Behind the houses passing by, sunlight
flickers on rolling waves and I smell salt in the air. We’ve left the darkness
behind.

Part of me wants to keep going and part wants to bail.
How could what we’re doing matter this much? I ask myself which feelings to
trust—the fear that I’m going to get into even more trouble or the curiosity I
don’t want to deny. I think back to what I definitely knew when we entered
Victor’s apartment. I should have listened to my instincts. This time I do.

“How far is Charlotte?”

“So, you made up your mind,” Lauren says.

“But why are you—”

“That’s not the issue. I’m not in any hurry to get home,
if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Okay, Charlotte,” I say. “Why the hell not?”

“Cool. By the way, how are you set for cash? We’re going
to need some gas soon.”

With all that’s happened, that aspect hasn’t even entered
my mind. But it’s more than a fair question. After all, Lauren sprung me from
hell on her dime. I take out my wallet and check to be sure. “About sixty.”

It’s the same every year. My parents launch me out of
their lives with eighty dollars so I have money to spend at the camp store. Not
that there’s much worth buying.

 “I’ve got some money but we won’t be able to get back,
that’s for sure,” Lauren says. “You sure that’s all you have?”

“Yeah, that’s it.”

Lauren thinks for a moment, then nods. “That sucks, but
there it is. We better turn this ship around. Look, it’s cool,” she adds.
“Probably just means it wasn’t meant to be.”

Of course, there is the credit card but my parents would
kill me. “I do have a credit card,” I say.

“Seriously, you have a credit card?”

“Well, it’s my parents’ card, really. I mean, it’s for
emergencies only.”

“What do you call this?”

“Not sure.” Phrases like “irrational behavior” and
“completely irresponsible” come to mind, but not exactly “emergency.”

“Maybe this is an emergency. Just not one your parents
would understand,” Lauren says. “I see no issues.”

~~~

We roll toward Charlotte at sunset, all those towering
buildings reflecting light, everything different and new. We have the windows rolled
down and the air blows against my face, warm and moist and full of southern
summer. While, technically, we really aren’t all that far from Richmond it
still feels like we’re a thousand miles away.

“What are you smiling about?” Lauren says.

“I can’t believe we’re actually doing this.”

“To be honest, that thought occurred to me too. But, what
the hell, right?”

“Exactly, what the hell,” I say, wondering if Susan
Walker is the woman from my flashes and what I’ll say to her. How can I explain
why we decided to go looking for her? “Hi, I keep seeing you inside my head,”
seems a strange way to start a conversation. Still, there has to be a reason
behind those flashes. I’ve tried to ignore my experiences in the past but the
fact is I’ve been right every time I felt something strongly. And if I’m honest
with myself, those have always been more than just feelings. I’ve always
known
.

Suddenly, Lauren pulls off the highway and the city
skyline sinks out of view as she descends the off-ramp. “What’s up?”

“Didn’t you see the sign? You really need to be more
observant.”

“Okay, Yoda. What did I miss this time?”

Lauren laughs and does a Yoda voice. “Dixie Inn, sign
for. That motel heard of have you?”

“Not bad,” I say. “Never.”

Yoda gets replaced by a cynic. “Exactly. Which means it’s
probably a total dump.”

“And we want to stay in a total dump, why?” I say,
inadvertently sounding a little like Yoda myself.

“Because they need our money. Which means…now you fill in
the blank.”

I consider this. “They won’t ask too many questions?”

“Exactly,” Lauren says. “Yes, I have a fake ID for all
the times when I need to be technically an ‘adult’ but my guess is it will work
better for us at the Dixie Inn than the Marriott. Besides, we’ll get a cheaper
room out in the suburbs.”

My pulse picks up at the thought of us spending the night
in a motel together. For some reason, I assumed we’d try to track down Susan
Walker tonight. Probably, Lauren is just tired. After all, she’s been driving
all day. And that confrontation with Victor had to have taken its toll too. Or
she’s just being sensible—it really wouldn’t be a good idea to drive all the
way back tonight. On the other hand, maybe she’s thinking something else. Could
that be possible?

I tell myself I have no reason to think that’s the case,
that I’m being ridiculous. Still, even as I try to stop, I wonder again what
her lips would feel like against mine. What it would be like to touch her and
have her touch me. I have some experience, but I’ve never had
the
experience, and we’re getting a room together. My heart beats faster and I
force myself to think of something else—anything else, like being at camp, how
pissed off my parents will be—before my body gives me away and she’ll be able
to see what I’m thinking. I look out my window. I can’t look at Lauren right
now.

A few minutes later, we park outside the motel office.
Thankfully, I’ve gotten myself under control but I’ve avoided eye contact a few
times. God, please don’t let her be psychic about stuff like that.

“So, who are we?” I say, as we walk toward the door.

“You are so full of existential questions,” Lauren says.

I laugh and I wonder if it sounds like a nervous laugh.
“No, I mean to the motel people.”

Lauren actually rolls her eyes, which does nothing to
shore up my fantasy from a few minutes ago. “We’re two people getting a room.
They probably won’t ask for a marriage license, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

As it turns out, the lady behind the front desk doesn’t
even ask for ID. She’s somewhere in her sixties, round and gray, peering at her
phone through thick glasses when we enter.

“Just for one night?” she says, evidently used to people
never staying past that.

“Yes, please,” Lauren says.

“Did you two have a good day?” she says, running my
credit card.

“Pretty good,” I say.

She tears off the receipt from the printer and I sign.
“Good,” she says. “Check-out’s at eleven. There’s an Arby’s and a McDonald’s
just down the street if you’re hungry.”

And that’s it. We have our room. But I’m not fantasizing
as we leave the office. I’m thinking about the fact that I just used the credit
card. At a motel. Five hours from home. While my father has never beaten me
before, I imagine it as a future possibility. He’s made it beyond clear that
the credit card is for emergencies only. As in, you’re on a plane that crashes
and you’re the only survivor but it turns out the town you crashed in is being
overrun by zombies and the only way out is by the last remaining taxi and the
driver only takes credit cards. That sort of thing. Otherwise, the card is to
remain in my wallet.

“You okay?” Lauren says. “Thought I felt the mood shift
again.”

I vow never to think of her sexually again. At least, not
ahead of time. I suppose, after the fact, it wouldn’t matter if she’s psychic.
“I’m good,” I say. “How about you?”

“Fine. I think it’s cool how old ladies are all
Facebooking on their phones these days. I think she was looking at pictures of
her grandkids. She seemed nice, actually.”

What is it with Lauren and total strangers? Although, so
far she seems to be a really good judge of character. “So, which is our best
dinner option?”

“Mickey D’s or Arby’s. Awesome. Especially for a
vegetarian.”

“You’re a vegetarian?” To me, an Arby’s roast beef sounds
just fine.

“I make the occasional exception for sushi,” Lauren says.
“I realize this is a flimsy moral argument but I’ve tried staring into the eyes
of fish before. Not a whole lot going on. But otherwise I’m a vegetarian.
Except for bacon. Totally hypocritical, I know. So, I’m sort of a fail as a
vegetarian but I keep trying.”

“I think Arby’s has a BLT.”

“Yeah, I know. Let’s go. I’m freaking starving.”

We decide to take our food back to the motel due mostly
to the light jazz background music at Arby’s and the fact that I’m worried
about leaving the guitar in the bus. We sit on the bed together since the Dixie
Inn doesn’t offer much in the way of amenities, including a table or chairs.
There’s just the bed, a dresser holding a TV and the bedside nightstands.
“Cozy” might be one word for it. “Rat hole” also comes to mind. Had I been in
that room, say, with Justin or Doug, I’d be crawling out of my skin with
claustrophobia. But I’m not sharing that room with Justin or Doug. So, I’m 
going with “cozy.”

We channel surf while we eat, then stay with one of those
ghost hunter shows. I’m actually getting into it but Lauren keeps sighing like
something is bothering her. When the show ends, she mutes the TV. “Here’s why
these shows kind of bug me,” she says. “They always find the ghost. So, that’s
great. But I really wish they could
do
something. I’m not saying I know
what they
should
do—because I don’t—but the ghost is still trapped. It
just makes me feel sad.”

Actually, I don’t get it. “Why do you think the ghost is
trapped?”

Lauren balls up her sandwich wrapper and shoots it across
the room into the wastebasket. Granted, it’s a tiny room but she makes her shot
barely trying. “Well, why else would ghosts even be around if they didn’t have
to be? They’d be in heaven or would have reincarnated already, depending on
what you believe.”

“What about hell? Wouldn’t some people go there too?”

“Here’s my opinion,” Lauren says. “Hell is remaining here
as a ghost. Maybe because of something you did or something that happened to
you. Or maybe because of something that’s been left unresolved. Like you’re
just stuck in time obsessing about something that happened in the past and
can’t move on.”

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