Indie Author Answers #38: Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Paperbacks

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this week will explore the land of creating a paperback version of your book, and if you need one. Tune in to find out!

14: Brian

 

The clothes in the industrial washer spun as the water churned in a repetitive circle. Brian watched it mindlessly as a meditation, while trying not to let the circular motion remind him of the wheels of the bicycle that belonged to the broken man that Brian had held in his arms while they awaited the ambulance. Instead, he tried to shift his focus to rehearsing the lecture notes for an upcoming exam in his World Religions class.

Brian’s first trip to the laundromat since his dorm days became necessary when his washer at home gurgled and died. The repair tech would not come until next week. Washer and dryer access at home had been a luxury he took for granted. Now it killed him to have to spend five or six dollars in quarters to have clean clothes, especially since this week would be lean, money-wise.

To make matters worse, he had forgotten the dryer sheets at home and now had the spent fifty cents on a single sheet so his clothes would not get static cling. In between the first and second quarter, the bell attached to the door jingled, and he obligatorily turned towards the opening door. The first thing he noticed was the iceberg tip of a tattoo poking out of the top of a shirt. The tall, beautiful brunette entered the room, supporting a laundry basket against her stomach. Memories kindled in him like fire to brush. The first and last time he saw her: the same night as his post-Commerce City conversation with Wiles. The same night that he, Alex, and Heather had scrambled over the back fence at Miguel’s house in a frantic attempt to elude the police. That had been over two years ago, but with the image of this girl’s face still so fresh in his mind, it could just as easily have happened yesterday.

She walked right past him, either not noticing him, or not caring. Echoes of the failed attempt with the barista at Starbucks flashed in his mind. He would do better this time. Tattoo Girl appeared to be trying to insert a ten-dollar bill into the change machine, and something in Brian stirred and instinct prevailed. He had to talk to her. He visualized himself speaking with her.

Do it. Do it now.

“Do you need some change? I don’t think that machine takes tens.”

She grinned at him. “My hero,” she said as she handed him the ten for two fives.

Brian blanked on the follow-up, since his plans had not gone beyond the first line. He spit out the first thing that popped into his mind. “Do I know you from somewhere?” he said, even though he knew exactly from where.

“Probably Hoffman’s Ethics class. Tuesday-Thursday, the one in the stadium room?”

Brian blinked. He was in Hoffman’s class, but he had never seen her there before. “I don’t, um, I mean, yes, I’m in that class. That must be where I know you from. I don’t remember seeing you there.” Megan collected her quarters and picked up her basket without responding to Brian’s comment. He panicked. She was about to walk away. Another impulse took over, and he started talking, even before he knew what to say. “So, let me ask you something, because I’m curious about what kind of person you are. Ethically, I mean.”

Megan smiled and walked towards the washers. Brian followed.

“Do you add the detergent in first, then the clothes, or fill up the water and then put them both in?”

“I put the clothes in first.”

That’s a decent start. Keep going. She wants you to talk to her.

“Outside the box thinking. I like it.”

“Well, I do like to live dangerously,” she added with a wink.

She winked. The wink took him by surprise. This girl portrayed herself as so self-assured and confident, and every word and every movement oozed sexuality. Hard to believe that such poise was authentic.

“A laundry question?” she said. “Was that seriously the best line you could come up with?”

“We’re in a Laundromat so I guess I thought it would apply. I didn’t have much time to prepare.”

“Do you need some more time? To prepare?” she said.

He started to get a sense that this girl was the feisty type. “Uh, no, I guess not. It’s a little late for that now. You can probably tell that I’m not quite an on-my-feet kind of thinker.”

Megan laughed. “Is that so? You seem to be doing good so far. My question for you is: are you going to ask me for my phone number?”

Mind blown. He had the sensation that he was falling; drifting through the air while standing still. Brian considered the possibility that he might be dreaming. “I feel like I’m completely outmatched here. You don’t mess around, do you?”

“No, Brian, I guess you could say I don’t. I’m not much into small talk.”

Brian felt a million tiny pins of heat behind the skin on his face, which meant he had blushed. “How did you… how do you know my name?”

“Aww, come on. I’ve seen you in class. I ask questions. It’s not a big deal. Anyway, you got your whites and colors separated already, or what?”

 

***

 

Three hours later, with a perpetual smile on his face and a phone number on a carefully-folded piece of paper in his wallet, Brian sat at the top of an unfinished staircase at the construction site across from his apartment complex. The platform at the top of the stairs overlooked (what was most likely) the new building’s lobby, with large open slots for windows and skylights that allowed ample space to take in a wide-open panorama of the mountains for optimal sunset viewing. Below him, wooden frames sat atop freshly dried concrete.

Happy just to sit and repeatedly dissect the conversation from the laundromat, her name bounced around in his head like a child on a pogo stick (her slight southern accent made her name play more like may-ginn than Megan, however). He had not enjoyed this level of happiness in a long time, maybe in years. Nothing in the world matched a new crush; nothing in the world could compare to the inherent possibility and hope that came with it.

Lost in his romantic fantasy, Brian almost did not hear the shuffling of feet through snow and the steps below him on the stairs. Brian looked up to see Wiles standing over him, holding a six-pack ring, from which dangled two cans of beer. Wiles plopped down on the sawdust-covered floor next to Brian, snapped one of the beers from the ring and handed it to Brian. Brian stared at the beer for a second before taking it.

Wiles popped open his own beer and said, “gonna get my ass all dirty sitting here. So we meet again, Connelly.” He did not look at Brian, but kept his eyes up towards the mountains. “Not a bad view. I’ve decided that the short hair looks better on you, by the way. I always thought you looked like a damn girl with that shit laying on your shoulders like that.”

“How did you know I was here? What are you doing here?”

“Britton told me that you like to sit up here so you can think about your belly button. You never come over to my crib with him. He’s over all the time, but I never see you. That reminds me… you ever see Heather anymore?

Brian shook his head. There was something strange in Wiles expression, but Brian left it alone.

“Is it weird, me asking you this?” Wiles said.

Brian did not answer the question, but instead opened the beer and had a sip. Foul tasting and lukewarm, but allowed Brian an activity other than engaging with Wiles. Wiles nudged Brian on the shoulder with a closed fist. “We used to be so close, you and me. What happened? You just dropped off the face of the earth. One day, we were racing down I-25 tagging billboards with a paintball gun, and the next day you were just up and gone. I miss you, son, we should hang out sometime. Like the old days.”

Brian had no interest in reconnecting. “You don’t call it a gun, it’s a marker.”

“What’s that?”

“You wanted to ask me something, I assume,” Brian said. Wiles’ cordiality and charm clearly hid some ulterior motive; Brian preferred that Wiles just get to it. “Is there something I can do for you?”

“Oh right. Actually, it’s something I can do for you. I don’t know if there’s a gentle way to say this, but, I know where you’re at with stuff, so it seemed like the right time. I know that the market for weed has been a little dry lately, so I came to make you that offer about the yellow again.”

Where I’m at with stuff? “I’m not interested.”

Wiles groaned. “Slow your roll, son. There’s no need to be all testy; I just came here to talk.”

“I already told you no. Thanks for the beer, though.”

Wiles drummed up his used-car salesman smile. “Come on, son, don’t be like this. I need you. I’m having some… complications with a partner of mine. I need somebody to smooth things over. That’s all. No drama this time, I promise. Just meet some people and sling a little bit of meth. I’ll make it worth your while.”

“I don’t need the money. I’m doing okay,” Brian said.

“That’s not the way Alex tells it. He said you said something about the ‘financial aid mob’? Look, I know you’ve been eating ramen noodles and drinking PBR. I know you ride your bike in the freezing motherfucking cold to save on gas money. College is expensive, son. All I’m saying is we can help each other out some. As much as you want, even. I’m flexible. There’s a little bit of money to be had selling grass, you know that. There’s a lot of money in meth. You can say no and keep on living in the poorhouse, with no money to buy real beer, or you can just take my little promotion and get your bills paid. Does it sound so terrible?”

Wiles had Brian trapped, and he knew that Wiles knew it. He found the only weapon that could entice Brian and used it to stab him in the wallet. The beauty of today at the laundromat and his reminiscing afterwards was that for a few hours, financial insecurity had not plagued him. And now, along came Wiles with a proposal that it seemed he could not refuse. Meth practically sells itself.

“Your boy Britton is getting out of control,” Wiles said. “You could take some of that heat off him if you help me out.”

Alex was careless, that much had been clear to Brian. Threats aside, since Wiles said he needed Brian, Brian could maybe get something that he wanted out of it. The prospect of making extra pocket money was not the lure that might bring Brian back into the fray. There was a less-selfish goal that Brian had in mind.

“Okay, I’m in. But only on one condition,” Brian said.

 

 

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