Diane, as a new employee in the training phase, wasn’t asked to stay for the “closing up” procedures. Jenny Tierney and I had that covered. Two was more than enough for the cashiers’ portion of the closing.
We retrieved fresh boxes of condiment packets from the back storage room, and restocked the supply beneath the counter. In the customer dining area, we filled the straw and napkin dispensers.
I walked out at not quite 10:45 p.m. My earlier estimate had been right on target.
When I saw the boys gathered in the parking lot, under one of the big halogen lights, I groaned silently.
I had avoided Keith Conway for the entire evening since our initial conversation. But I was to avoid him no longer.
Keith was there with Jonesey and Scott Thomas. They were smoking a marijuana cigarette, passing the reefer back and forth between them.
They hailed me almost as soon as I came out through the main door.
“Yo! Stevie, buddy! Come here!” Keith Conway, of course.
“Have a good night, Keith,” I said, as I approached them. I was about to veer toward the Bonneville. “I’m going home.” I nodded curtly at Jonesey and Scott. “I’ll see you later.”
There was nothing about my response that struck me as humorous, or even mildly ironic. It nevertheless occasioned giggling from Scott and Jonesey. They knew that Keith and I were not exactly best friends, and they saw this as another way to curry favor with him.
“‘See us later’?” Keith said. “I was thinking you might want to toke up with us. Come on, Stevie. The Carol Burnett Show is already off the air.”
Jonesey and Scott found this hysterically funny. I recalled that Louis had said something similar. Why did everyone seem to think that I watched Carol Burnett?
“I don’t think so,” I replied. I turned away from them.
“Ah, man. Can’t you ever just be one of the guys?” Keith said. “I mean like…for once in your whole life?”
I had no desire to be one of this particular group of guys. Under different circumstances, I would have told them so.
I was in turmoil, however. I couldn’t rid my mind of all the unusual events of the day—despite my conscious intention to focus on pleasant summertime thoughts.
It had occurred to me: If Louis has been having strange experiences, too, then it can’t be all coincidence.
In the midst of that inner conflict, the needling from these three knuckleheads caused my temper to snap suddenly.
They wanted me to be one of the guys? Fine. I would show them.
I spun on my heels and walked up to them. I saw Keith’s body tense. He was likely wondering if I was going to hit him.
And for a second, I was wondering about that, too.
“Here,” I said. I snatched the joint from Jonesey’s hand. I put it to my lips and inhaled.
I had never smoked marijuana before. I had only smoked regular cigarettes on a handful of occasions, and I hadn’t liked the experience. One thing you may have noticed about the children of smokers: They either automatically drift into their parents’ tobacco habit, as a matter of course, or they quickly decide that they want nothing to do with the products of RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris. I was firmly in the latter group.
I wanted to cough out the lungful of acrid, oddly sweet marijuana smoke. But that would give them undue satisfaction. They would have themselves a good laugh at my expense.
So I willed myself not to cough. I exhaled the smoke slowly, luxuriantly, as if this was something I did every day.
“Are you happy now?” I said to Keith.
I handed the joint back to Jonesey, and then turned and walked in the direction of my car.
Now I had to drive home. I was feeling light-headed.
Surely a single hit from a joint hadn’t affected me that strongly, I thought.
Nevertheless, I could see a little field of stars swimming before my eyes. I had experienced this feeling once before, when I’d played touch football, and another kid had tackled me from my blind side.
The placebo effect, I told myself. One hit on a joint is nothing. Keith and his moronic friends, after all, seemed to smoke bales of it. And they somehow managed to drive themselves around.
I started up the Bonneville, backed out of my parking space, and began my journey home. I had a feeling that I hadn’t yet exhausted the day’s surprises.
And I hadn’t—not by a long shot.