The wrinkled checker kept looking up at me. She'd scan an item, then look up. Scan, then look up. Scan, then . . . "Hey, aren't you--"
"No." I cut her off.
She didn't say anything else.
Outside the 7-Eleven, when I told Glenn, he asked me what I expected. "Your 'look at me' blue hair attracts attention, Mona." He rummaged through the plastic grocery bag.
"It's 'leave me the hell alone' blue." I snatched the bag and fished the gum from under his Superman comics, taking a piece to stash in the pocket of my cutoffs before handing him the pack. "Anyways, that old lady had blue hair, too."
But it wasn't my hair the woman was interested in. That tottery nosey-body wanted to know if I was That Monalisa Kent Girl.
That's all anyone wanted to know when they saw me. It's why I finally decided to dye my dull brown hair yesterday. Distract them. Make them focus on my blue hair instead of my face. My eyes. The darn things were wider and bluer than Superman's tights.
Using my teeth, I ripped the plastic off the top of a lime Otter Pop, then stepped my beat-up beige work boots onto my skateboard. Glenn lightly pushed the small of my back, and we were off. Holding the Otter Pop above my head with the label facing back at Glenn, I called out, "Sir Isaac Lime says, 'Thank you.'"
"Sir Isaac Lime has manners. You should ask him for lessons."
"Waste of time, Popeye. I yam what I yam."
With his long, floppy strides, Glenn caught up to me within a few feet. He'd pulled his Batman ball cap low over his sunglasses, which were thickly lensed and majorly tinted to protect his damaged optic nerves. He wore them indoors and out. I rested my free hand on his wide shoulder and let him pull me along. All I had to do was enjoy my ice pop and occasionally point out a rock or a piece of litter for Glenn to swerve around. The Pink Cloud was only a few blocks away and we were in no hurry. Summer days were meant to be lived slowly.
While I sucked my icy treat, Glenn popped his Bubble Yum. Four blocks of popping. Truly annoying, but I didn't rag on him about it. Instead I listened closely and realized he was popping out a tune. Impressive. Glenn might be blunderheaded about all things athletic, but everything else, he had wired.
It was only four o'clock when we got there, but since it was Friday, the Pink Cloud was already fully packed and highly adrenalized. Glenn's parents knew exactly what they were doing when they opened their tattoo parlors there--right in the heart of downtown and just two blocks from the university. The Pink Cloud Tattoo Salon dominated one side of the block, facing the park. Dante's Inferno, Ink., backed up to it, on the other side of the block, facing the burned-out plant. Most people had no clue that the same family owned both studios. Most people assumed the shops were in competition. Most people forgot that when you assume things, you make an ass of u and me.
The genius is that the Pink Cloud and Dante's served totally different breeds of tattoo junkie.
Glenn's mom ran the Pink Cloud. It was hip, posh, and pink up the wazoo. Its fuzzy, frilly tattoo chairs made Starbucks-swilling college girls shiver with delight. But then, Margarita Glenn served her own special blend of espresso during inking sessions, so maybe those shivers were caffeine jitters. Whatever their reason, girls wanting their dainty ankles decorated with hearts and flowers swamped the place.
Never one to miss a business opportunity, Margarita had the frat boys covered, too. Black-and-white checkerboard floor tiles and glossy, framed hot-rod posters injected enough testosterone into the Barbie-pink studio to make guys feel secure. Which meant I was happy, too, because even though I usually felt an urge to spew in the presence of girly-girl things like pink suede couches, I truly relished watching trendy boys fight back tears as Margarita needled barbwire tattoos into their biceps and told them how strong and brave they were. Glenn's mom knew how to work the college crowd, all right.
Macho guys who'd rather drink oil coolant than espresso opted for Dante's. Glenn's dad headed that operation. Tucker Glenn's motto was "Tattoos for the Damned," and his customers were hard-core: chains and leather, colors and signs. And everyone who worked there was covered with ink. The newest needle wielder, Chet, even had a bold black tribal design swirled around his left eye, with a wooden peg poked through his eyebrow as a centerpiece. Dante's was cool to its hard-edged core, with its steel-plated walls, medieval-muraled ceiling, pounding speakers, and studly guys. It was my kind of scene all the way--and the only real sign of life in a town that had flatlined years ago.
Tuck didn't share Margarita's trendy business style. He was a purist. Other tattoo artists might stencil tattoos from mass-market design sheets onto customers who didn't know the difference and didn't care, but Tuck would hack off his own hand before he'd trace the lines of a press-on template. As far as he was concerned, "flash tattoos" were as artistic as bumper stickers. Tuck created his own designs, and tattoo enthusiasts flocked from miles around to have him ink their bodies.
Between the two studios, way in the back, was the Hole, a microscopic back room crammed with a mini fridge, a mini microwave, and a mini TV. More tunnel than room, the Hole allowed me and the Glenns to scuttle between both studios without trudging outside and around the block.
With the Hole being so puny and the Pink Cloud being so pink, Glenn and I hung out at Dante's. Most days, the Inferno stayed mellow until after the sun sank, its customers being the kind who roam mostly after dark. We made Dante's our hangout long ago, back in our smelly diaper days when my dad talked the Glenns into babysitting me while he worked. Now, with me sixteen and Glenn fifteen, we spent all our free time together in Tuck's studio. It helped that Tuck favored comfy futons and furniture made from old car parts, making it a real homey place to kick back. Why shouldn't it be? The Glenns spent most of their time at the studios. Their house was just a place to sleep at night.
I hated that time, when they went home to sleep. It meant I had to go home, too. And my house was anything but homey.
P-tuey! Glenn spit his gum into the trash can, arching it over a bumper-turned-lamp for a three-pointer from the saggy futon.
"Nice technique, bubble boy."
He dipped his head slightly to acknowledge my compliment. The guy was nearly crippled by butterfingers and two humongous left feet, but his lips had better aim than Allen Iverson from the three-point line. Me, I'd only made that shot once. Every other time I had to haul myself off my keister, pluck my chewy wad off the lampshade, then slam-dunk it into the can, Shaquille O'Neal style. Maybe today would be my lucky day.
Nope. I got up for yet another walk of shame to the lamp.
"Oh, hey"--I spun away from the lamp to face Glenn--"isn't the Guy coming today?"
Glenn shook his hound-dog head and tossed a fresh hunk of Bubble Yum at his mouth. It bounced off his teeth. Invoking the five-second rule, he swiped the sugary cube off the floor and set it directly onto his tongue.
"Nope. Maybe tomorrow." He chewed rapidly. "Or maybe the next day. Can't count on the Guy like a regular person." He tilted his head back and stuck his nose up in the air. His deep voice went all snooty. "He's an artiste." Snap, snap, snap. More bubbles.
I slam-dunked my gum, then wiped the slobber on my cutoffs. "Shoot, I'm stuck at home tomorrow. I'll miss him again. I gotta see this guy--it's killing me."
"You and everyone else. But it's never gonna happen. He's not into that. It's the art, not the glory." He snapped out "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," or something like it.
Whispered myths about the Guy had swirled in Muessa Junction for years--he gave this boring town something to be excited about. Except for the Glenns, though, nobody had seen him, not even the lucky stiffs he tattooed. He made them wear hoods over their heads as he drilled ink masterpieces into their flesh. It heightened the mystery and the myth--and the reputation of Dante's.
"What's up tomorrow, anyway?" he asked.
I let my body go limp and landed heavy on the futon. "It's the eleventh."
"Oh, that's right." Glenn waved his large hand with a flourish. "The day of glory!" When I made a face, he got serious. "I'm sorry, Mona. I know it sucks." He offered me the last piece of gum, but I pushed it away. "Even Superman has his kryptonite. You'll get through it; you always do."
I sighed dramatically, like I didn't care, then looked around for something else to talk about. Inside, my heart drummed right past "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and pounded out a heavy-metal drumfest to wake the dead. A half-digested Twinkie threatened a reverse trip up my throat.
It was the same every year. If only I could cut July eleventh right out of the calendar. Would my dad even notice? Of course he would. His annual gloating was his reason for living. He had to celebrate the day he saved Glenn. And me. From me.
And WOPR Local 10 News loved its town hero. Like clockwork, they called every July first to set up the taping. Viewers needed their "Where Are They Now?" segment, after all. Heck, without an annual update, they might not know That Monalisa Kent Girl when they saw her. And we couldn't have that happen. How would they know who to aim their bitter stares at?
Actually my dad called the crew this year, a week early. He'd wanted to get a jump on things, this being the tenth anniversary and all--the tenth anniversary of the first day of the end of my life.
A rapid series of snaps jogged me out of my wallowing. "What the heck was that?"
Glenn tried to slurp in the tattered shreds so he could answer, but a voice from behind us beat him to it: "'La cucaracha,' Bebita. Of course!"
Margarita glided out of the Hole and the air in the room sweetened. For just a moment the scent of fresh lilies overpowered the burnt French fry fumes that usually flavored the breeze in this Podunk town. As Glenn's mom drifted across the room, her Barbie-pink sandals clip-clopped their own little tune. A smile crossed her face when she noticed this; then she tossed her hands into the air and swiveled her size-two hips. She clapped and twirled and clip-clopped with gusto.
"Ay-ay-ay! Andale!" She executed a rapid-fire hip-swing over to the radio and flipped the station from thrash rock to her Latina musica station. "Come on, Bebita. Baila conmigo!"
Her fuchsia-nailed hand grabbed my wrist and yanked me up like a rag doll. Wow, no wonder Glenn called her the Incredible Little Hulk. I made a mental note to buff up.
Glenn scrambled to his feet with all the grace of a three-legged cow in a tutu and made a beeline to the opposite side of the room. He loved Margarita to death, but there was no way he'd baila conmigo for her.
I had no problem with it, though. Andale! With my barely laced work boots supplying base percussion, we made a clomp-stomp clip-clop duet. We twirled and whirled while Glenn leaned against the far wall, his dark lenses trained on us from a safe distance. Vintage Glenn: If the action steps up a notch, he steps out. And he'd been doing a lot of stepping out lately.
After a few minutes I heard Glenn's bellow over the music and our ay-ay-ays. "Hey, twinkle toes! I thought you wanted to hit Binny's! Won't be open much longer! We have to go now if you want to see his new stuff today!"
Binny's! All that twirling must have frapped my brain. I'd forgotten all about the shipment.
I loved the smell of Binny's. Incense smoke wafted through every nook and cranny of the shop. Chestnut. Pine. Vanilla. A smorgasbord of smells.
Then there was the eye candy. Floor to ceiling, without a break, strips of color and blocks of type assaulted my retinas.
HANG UP AND DRIVE!
MY OTHER CAR IS A TONKA.
FORGET MILK! GOT CHOCOLATE?
Bumper stickers covered every surface.
Right in the middle of it all, down at ground level on a fringed purple pillow, sat Binny. He was posed as usual--legs crossed, kneecaps jutting, gaze focused on another realm. The bell above the door had tinkled when Glenn and I strolled in, but Binny's body hadn't twitched a muscle. He was a rock.
Eventually, though, even a rock had to say hi.
"Hey there, Bluebell," he finally rasped in his swampy Big Easy accent. He pointed a crooked finger at my blue head. "My favorite color. K-pas-o, Chico Boy?"
I interrupted before Glenn could answer. "Enough chitchat. Did it come?"
Binny chuckled. He knew I'd been waiting for this shipment: a whole line of bumper stickers based entirely on cheesy quotes from even cheesier eighties movies.
"Sure I can't interest you in Shakespeare bumps, instead? We are such stuff as dreams are made of. . . . Be not afraid of greatness. . . ." His scratchy voice dropped lower. "Words of wisdom are food for the soul, Bluebell."
"Nope." Been there, done that. "My soul is stuffed, thank you." I already had stickers that made me think, tons and tons of them. And I had most of them committed to memory. What I wanted now was something to make me smile, to get my mind off serious stuff . . . off the eleventh. "You know what I want, Binny. Cough it up."
I jammed my fists on my hips.
"It's your soul." He shook his head and set about unwinding his pretzeled body. Grunting, he pushed himself up, then futzed a moment, trying to balance his potato-shaped torso over his chicken legs. The poor guy looked like he was trying to hula an invisible hoop. If I offered him a hand, though, he'd just smack it away and give me a look like that old lady in the market. Been there, done that, too.
Once his teetering was finally tottered out, Binny shuffled over to a row of boxes covered with a tarp. Distracted by the color-splashed walls and ceiling, I hadn't noticed the pile. With Glenn's help, Binny yanked the tarp back. "Ta-da!"--three huge boxes of bumper stickers.
"My man, Binny!" I crossed the room quickly.
Glenn sliced open the mother lode, then scooted back so I could dig in. He didn't have much use for bumper stickers unless they had cartoon characters or car logos on them. He was into graphics, just like his dad.
WHAT'S HAPPENING, HOT STUFF?!
Yeah, baby, I thought.
I FEEL THE NEED, THE NEED FOR SPEED!
I'LL BE BACK.
Exactly what I needed. Not a serious sentiment in the bunch.
"Binmeister, you came through again. Oh hey, Glenn, here's one for you." I held up a sticker: I'D RATHER KISS A WOOKIEE.
He fake laughed and flipped me off. Then he nudged his hat to the back of his head and plunked down to the floor like a lazy dog.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Honk If You Hate Me by Deborah Halverson. Copyright © 2007 by Deborah Halverson. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.