Danger. I may be in danger. Nah, can’t be. I’m just a peon, a nobody, an insignificant blip on the radar of life.
“Yes, Piccolo, you may very well be in danger.”
So much for keeping my thoughts to myself. They slip out sometimes without me even realizing I’m actually blabbing them out loud, but that usually only happens when I’m alone. I talk to myself a lot, inside my head AND out loud. I even go so far as to argue with myself on occasion, but it generally only concerns the pros and cons of predicaments I face. We all have our peculiarities. Those just happen to be a couple of mine.
“And you DO matter, so stop with the Emily Dickinson ‘I’m nobody’ gibberish and get your head out of your arse,” Dickhead chastises. “We don’t know anything yet, but you need looking after, a safe place to stay, to be with someone you can trust. Anyone could have seen us together when we left the office this morning, so I can’t promise you or guarantee you that everything is going to be all right. But I can protect you the best way I know how by keeping you close.“
“I’m glad you agree.”
Will you shut the fuck up already?! Stop flapping your jaws, else he’s going to think you’re a crazy bitch and dump your ass on the side of the road out in the middle of BFE!
“As tempting a thought as that may be, I don’t make a habit of stranding women along the countryside,” he lightly scolds me. “And what, exactly, is BFE?”
I really need to start carrying a roll of duct tape in my purse.
“Bum Fuck, Egypt. Lawd knows why, but everybody here says it. It’s just another way to say the middle of nowhere, nothing else. So don’t go getting all politically correct on me.”
I LOATHE political correctness. Society goes to psychotic extremes to make sure no one gets their feelings hurt because, as we all know, the real world is just fucking BRIMMING with people who ALWAYS play nice with others.
“I’m only politically correct in genteel company,” he says, deadpan, “so you’re safe.”
Oh, sarcasm, how I welcome thee!
“Should we ring your parents to let them know we’re coming?” he asks as we at long last reach the fringes of Nashville.
“No. They know I’m on my way.”
And he deserves a heads-up.
“I should, uh, warn you that they may not give you a, um, warm reception,” I begin.
“Now who’s being politically correct?”
Open mouth, insert foot.
It seems the color red rather becomes me. I’m certainly modeling enough shades of it for Dickhead today.
“Anyway, I just wanted to give you a heads-up,” I add, desperately trying to think of a subtle way to change the subject.
What’ll it be? Sports or weather? If I talk about the weather, it’ll just turn into a bitchfest about the humidity, so …
“When did you learn how to box?”
So much for the subtle approach.
But he humors me and takes my artless cue anyway.
“When I was 11,” he says, smirk back in place, “I was always getting into fights. Cheeky English lads and the rural Midwest don’t exactly mix, although I admit that I brought much of it upon myself. I was angry at my mum for making me leave London for — to use your terminology — BFE, Indiana, so I took it out on anyone who crossed my path. Detention didn’t work. Suspension didn’t work. Extra chores didn’t work. Taking away all of my privileges at home, such as they were, didn’t work. I couldn’t stand having to be around a bunch of Yanks when all I really wanted to do was go back home to London. Instead, the principal at my elementary school took it upon himself to teach me how to channel my anger more constructively every day after school rather than expelling me. And everyone lived happily ever after.”
RIIIIIGHT. More like UNhappily ever after.
I can’t even begin to fully comprehend how he must have felt being forcefully uprooted from one country to another as a little boy. Poor thing must have been terribly frightened. I can just picture him lashing out at everyone with that false bravado of his that he probably still uses to this day, though he’ll never let on if he actually does or not. It’s eye-opening, the things we learn when we think we already know everything there is to know about a person before finding out that we really don’t know a damn thing about them at all. Sad, but true.
“Why Indiana, of all places?” my intrigue compels me to inquire. “What about your father?”
Careful now. Remember: Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
Briscoe’s earlier warning serves as a reminder for me to probe gently as I attempt to learn more about Dickhead’s childhood so that I can better understand the man he is today — the one he doesn’t allow anyone else to see. Except me, oddly enough.
“I know you think I’m a bastard,” he says, the pointed look in his eyes daring me to proclaim otherwise, “but I really AM a bastard. Only my mum’s name is listed on my birth certificate, so I don’t officially know the identity of my father, nor will I speculate with you or anyone else as to his name. I have my suspicions, but it is what it is and I frankly don’t care to pursue it at this point in my life. What I DO know is that she has a secret benefactor who must be a person of exorbitant means. Said benefactor involved a third party — I’m assuming a solicitor — to issue Mum a hefty monthly allowance to provide for the both of us for the duration of our lives as long as she keeps — pardon the pun — mum about the identity of my father. She told me all of this when I turned 18 and since they’ve taken pains to leave no paper trail of any sort — I know because I tore the house apart searching one night while she was out playing bingo — I have to take her at her word. And that, my dear, is the sob story of my bastard life.”
But I don’t blame him one bit. My opinion of him shifts yet again, rising several notches. My opinion of myself nosedives straight to hell with — please forgive the Monopoly reference — no passing “Go.”
Move over, crow. Time for some humble pie.
“Mum never told me why she chose rural Indiana, but I suppose it was just to go to some obscure place where no one would think to look for us. We made great fodder for the local gossips, who huddled together every day, all day in the local establishments where they cooked up some of the most outlandish theories as to how two English people came to live in their little backwoods town. The whispers didn’t stop until I moved away for good after finishing university at Auburn. These days when I visit Mum, they leave us be, but only because the novelty of chatting about the unwed Englishwoman and her brat of a lad finally wore off.”
“AUBURN?!” I can’t stop myself from half-yelling at him in dismay. “Please tell me you did NOT just say AUBURN!”
THIS changes everything! I cannot be seen associating with a gawddamn yahoo whose school’s battle cry is ‘War Eagle’ when its mascot is actually a fucking tiger! Not to mention just enough of a garish orange in its teams’ ugly-ass uniforms that damn near blinds me every time I’m forced to look at it during games! If it weren’t for the navy blue and white to help offset the deadly shade of orange that burns the shit out of my eyes, I’d be feeling my way around with a cane and a guide dog!
“I HATE Auburn!”
If you know anything at all about my home state, then you have — at the very least — heard about the intense college football rivalry between my beloved Alabama Crimson Tide and the hated Auburn Tigers. It’s arguably the biggest rivalry in ALL of college football AND in ALL of sports, for that matter, culminating with the two schools playing in the Iron Bowl at the end of the regular season every year. Wins and losses don’t mean diddly-squat when it comes to the Iron Bowl. Victory gives you bragging rights for the next 365 days, even if it IS the only damn game you win all season. Losing means you might as well pack your shit and move the fuck out of the state until the following year, otherwise you’re going to get ragged on mercilessly 24/7.
Picking a side is a rite of passage that we bestow upon parents the moment children are born in the great state of Alabama, although some are known to stray from the brood every once in a while. Which sometimes create sticky situations that can turn into major, earth-shattering, family-splitting crises when Alabama and Auburn fans intermingle and — GASP — marry, or, just as complex, bring a child into the world! I know it sounds outlandish, but it’s the gospel truth. Ask any Alabamian. We take our football VERY seriously.
“Yes, Auburn,” Dickhead confirms an ugly truth that I can never un-hear.
I am clearly in hell. It’s Hades (Dickhead) kidnapping Persephone (me) all over again. In Technicolor.
“But,” he adds, “it was — by far — NOT my first choice. I am NOT a fan of American football. I much prefer European football, thank you very much, and I do NOT cheer for Auburn, Alabama or anyone else along those lines. I had scholarship offers from several universities, but settled for Auburn because Mum pleaded with me to go someplace where I’d remain relatively anonymous despite my choice of vocation. That was MY stipulation — that I be able to pursue a degree in journalism without her interfering or impeding me in any way. University was the first time I felt like I had control of my own life, so I am grateful for my education at Auburn for opening that door for me.”
WHEW! What a relief! I can — SHUDDER — make a special exception JUST THIS ONCE to overlook the whole Auburn thing. BUT … wait! How dare he blasphemy “American” football! Why, they’ll string him up in Alabama if they hear this sacrilege talk! I’m — as he puts it in British speak when I’m shocked, or he is — GOBSMACKED as to how he managed to survive at Auburn if he spouted off to anyone who would listen back then about his dislike for our version of football the way he is to me now! The man must have a pair of seriously super-sized balls to be talking all crazy like this. Then again, perhaps the Aubs found the Englishman’s silly speak highly amusing and chose to overlook his personal affront for their — UGH! — football team because he didn’t KNOW any better. Yeah, sure. That sounds really plausible. Just as believable as Auburn actually ever having a prayer in hell of catching up to Alabama’s 16 national championships. Just for the record, Auburn only has two.
“And cease with all the self-righteous arguing I know you’re probably doing in that hard head of yours!” King Dickhead orders, delving into my thoughts in that creepy ESP-voodoo-like way of his, although I know it more realistically stems from years of experience observing people as an insightful newspaperman. “I don’t have to justify anything to anyone!”
SIGH. Here we fucking go again. We get along about as well as cats and dogs.
I give him the universal “T” hand signal for timeout just as he exits off the interstate for that food stop he promised me earlier.
If we don’t stop this constant hen-pecking, we may just do the killer a huge favor by offing each other instead.
“Peace?” I uncharacteristically give in as soon as he pulls into a truck stop, apparently deciding to forgo the drive-thru.
He gives a brusque nod. After unfolding ourselves from the car and hurriedly finding the nearest bathrooms, we head back outside with a handful of munchies to get us through the rest of our trip. We light up as if our very lives depend on it after tossing our loot into the car. Neither of us has had a smoke since leaving the office. Perhaps THAT’S our problem.
“Maybe we’re just not meant to get along,” I muse aloud. “We’re like oil and vinegar.”
I get the smirk, and I want to slap it off of his face.
“It’s not like you to give up so easily, Piccolo. We’re always going to butt heads, you know, with all of this back-and-forth verbal sparring. And I admire that you give as good as you get, that you don’t back down from me when most people go whimpering off into their little corners like wounded animals. But you push too hard sometimes, and I bite back. HARD.”
Dickhead 1, Piccolo 0. Sometimes, you have to pick your battles. I’ll concede this round to him, but I WILL win the war once I figure out exactly what it is we’re fighting for, and why.
I begin to shudder even as the dense humidity cloaks us, sweat pouring out of every pore in relentless gobs. What’s that saying again? Someone is walking over my grave. I think.
“Somebody is watching us,” I voice my paranoia. “I can feel it.”
The air around us is still. Unmoving. Lifeless. Like Coach Smith.
Reality returns, unwelcome, to blindside both of us.
“So can I. Let’s get out of here. Now.“
Great minds …
He’ll get no argument from me.