I’m not sure whether it was fortunate or not, but my wife had never been introduced to Rhonda, so she was relatively clueless about my unexpected face-to-face with her in the package store, and the subsequent delivery of the bolt-stash into my pocket. She did, however, notice that my mood had shifted significantly in the brief minutes I had left her alone in the car.
“Everything okay?” she asked as I got into the car and placed the beer and wine between my feet on the floorboard. I felt strangely grateful that Rhonda had dropped the bolt into my right pocket, which gave me a better opportunity to keep the bulky bulge from out of my wife’s line of sight.
“Yeah… I guess so. I ran into Bull’s cousin in there… she had all kinds of questions that I didn’t feel like answering out here in public though.” I pulled my seatbelt over my shoulder and clicked it in place. “I’m ready to see Lil' Step… let’s get out of this town before somebody else recognizes me, okay?”
She put the car in reverse and we escaped from the parking lot. “Is that who that woman was who walked out of there right before you? I thought I had done something wrong to her by the way she eyeballed me when she walked past the car.”
“Nah… you probably misread her. I’m pretty sure she was high… no… on second thought, I’m positive she was high. I told her I didn’t have time to deal with a bunch of Q & A because you were waiting for me out here. She was probably just curious to see what you looked like and trying to figure out if she knew you. Who knows?” I was fidgeting nervously and thinking about the prospect of a small baggie of dope inside of the bolt-stash now occupying my pocket.
“Are you sure you’re okay, love? Did seeing her like that make you want to get high?” My wife asked and reached for one of my hands as we came to a brief halt at the traffic lights of a vacant intersection.
“I’m okay, I guess. I just got a little nauseated and sketchy when I realized she was high.” I rested our interlocking hands on the center counsel between our seats. “I’ll be better after I see Lil’ Step. Does your sister know we’re coming to get her?”
“I called her while you were in the store.”
The light turned green and we drove out of town in silence. Although I am aware that the trip must have taken fifteen minutes or more, I was so completely absorbed by the thoughts of the dope in my pocket and the systematic way my brain was scheming to find a way to get high with it as soon as possible, that when we pulled into the long, narrow, gravel driveway of our destination it was as if I was waking up from a very lucid dream. I did my best to shake the cravings that were consuming my thoughts as my wife and I opened the car doors and walked hand-in-hand towards the house where my step-daughter’s face was plastered to the large picture window with her hands waving madly in our direction.
“See,” my wife elbowed me gently, “I told you she was excited.”
I smiled and returned Lil’ Step’s wave. She disappeared from the window, leaving a sweaty smudge where her face had been. A moment later the heavy front door opened and she burst through the screen door, running full steam until she crashed into my lower body wrapping her arms around my mid-section.
“Hey there Lil’ Step,” I hugged her in return, and bent down to kiss the top of her head. I was surprised to notice that I couldn’t remember her being quite so tall, but chalked it up to impending puberty and the accompanying growth spurts. She was relentless with her embrace, until I reached behind my back to retrieve her small hands. I held her arms out and looked her over from top to bottom. “I think you got taller…”
“That’s what mom says, but I can’t tell.” She tore her hands from where I held them and wrapped her arms around me again. “So… mommy said she had to pick you up from jail and I had to stay here because you weren’t feeling good.”
“She was right… but I think I feel a little better now.” She dropped her hands away from my back, placed them both on her hips and stepped back to perform her own examination of my appearance. I noticed the beginnings of the goofy grin at the corners of her mouth that I had become familiar with when she was close to saying something off-color or meant to make fun of me. “What’s so funny child?”
She looked up at me, grinning ear-to-ear. “I told her you probably didn’t feel good because you dropped the soap!” She shrieked with laughter while I groaned with dissatisfactory laughs of my own and a lunged to playfully spank her. She dodged my attempts and hid behind her mother, several steps to my right.
“You think that’s funny, huh?” I hung my head in playful defeat. “Where do you hear stuff like that?”
“From YOU!!” She yelled and laughed defiantly from behind the relative safety of her mother.
“I told you so,” my wife affirmed, quietly smiling to herself. I closed the distance between the three of us, and we continued walking towards the house. My step-daughter drifted from her hiding spot behind her mother to the space between my wife and I, leaning against me as we walked, pressing the bolt uncomfortably into my hip. She noticed the bulging object in my pocket and patted it innocently with her own hand.
“What the heck is that?” she asked while manipulating and stretching the denim of my jeans to examine the shape of the bulky bolt without actually reaching into the pocket. I felt the instant heat of my face flushing and tiny drops of sweat forming on my forehead. My wife’s attentions were now diverted from the door of her sister’s house to the object that had captured Lil’ Step’s attention. I was left with little else but to hope that the bolt-stash I had created in the garage out on Bull’s property meant to deceive any overly-curious cops (if and when I happened to be in that predicament) would withstand the impromptu inspection by my wife and daughter as I struggled to find a lie to explain its current occupation of my pocket. I pulled the bolt from my pocket.
“Actually, I’m kind of puzzled about its meaning too.” I held the bolt in my trembling hand, blindly hoping that I could play this situation off with nervous, nonchalant carelessness. “I ran into a friend of mine at the store before we got here, and she’s kinda weird... to say the least. She told me it was to replace the screw I had loose in my head.” I laughed nervously. “Think it’s big enough?”
Lil’ Step grabbed the bolt from my hand and turned it over a couple of times before she handed it back to me. I felt a wave of relief wash over me when I realized she wasn’t going to try to unscrew the giant nut from the threads, potentially exposing the unknown contents. She appeared just as confused as my wife, but for all intents and purposes my improvised explanation of how the bolt ended up in my pocket had worked. I dropped the bolt back into my pocket and shrugged at my wife with feigned confusion as I took her hand in mine again.
“You’re right… your friend is weird,” my wife offered a crooked smile and thankfully let the subject drop before enough sweat had collected on my forehead to call attention to my lie.
“You’ve got a screw loose alright…” my daughter cackled a laugh and walked the final steps towards the door of the house just ahead of us. “Are we going home now? I miss my Xbox games… all of their games are boooooooring.”
“Yes, we are homeward bound. Get your stuff while I talk to your aunt for a couple of minutes,” my wife instructed.
I had dodged a bullet, but regardless, now my attention was solely focused on the bolt and its contents. I couldn’t wait to get home and watch my wife drink the wine waiting for her in the car and fall asleep so I could acquaint myself with the dope I was now certain was waiting for me… hiding in the bulky steel bolt inside of my pocket. My stomach rumbled, and I felt like I was going to have diarrhea.
I couldn’t remember ever feeling this dope-sick.
This work is the intellectual property of Jerome J. Panozzo