A Good Girl

Kristen Mercer

She had told him the night before he should meet her for coffee the following afternoon. They had been drinking with friends from Redlands, and when everyone went out to the car to get stoned, the two of them had stayed behind. She didn’t like drinking and getting high, and he hadn’t been in the mood. He responded that he was busy until ten-thirty, but could probably sneak away for thirty or so minutes after he placed his samples in the incubator. She said that would be fine, her class ended at ten-fifteen, and would he like her to bring the Borges book they had spoken of the last time they had been out? He told her not to worry about it, no time to read for fun these days. Things at the lab weren’t going well, and he was publishing a paper on HIV integrase inhibitors that was taking up most of his free time. She said she understood, and would see him in the morning. Everyone came back boisterous from the grass, laughing over some inexplicable hilarity that had occurred in the car when John dropped the bong, spilling the stinking water all over Dulce’s brand new stilettos, but it was late, and she was tired. She was often tired these days. Rides were offered, but she said she preferred to walk, and that was true. She made it back to campus, and stopped at a fountain to smoke. She placed her hand on the water’s surface, splaying her fingers across the clear liquid, not allowing them to submerge. She kept her hand there for a long time, feeling the tenuousness of the barrier. Finally she stood, and went to the place she was sleeping these days.

The next morning after class she headed into town. It wasn’t a long walk, and the weather was fine. A middle-aged man holding the hand of a young boy—not older than two or three, approached moving in the opposite direction. The child tripped as she walked by, but the man held him strongly, averting disaster. The child began to cry anyway, and she looked over her shoulder and watched for a moment as the man murmured to the boy, imagining the gentleness of his whispered endearments, and how they would comfort the child, and make him feel safe again.

She arrived at the coffeehouse first—she always did. He was never on time, but it didn’t bother her—it never did.

She ordered House, no room for cream, and found a spot on the patio away from the other customers. She wanted to smoke. She lit a Nat Sherman with her last match, and as she blew it out he arrived—encumbered with a case containing his laptop, and a half-eaten blueberry muffin in his left hand. He didn’t apologize for being late, he never did, but it didn’t bother her. She took a drag, and smiled at him through the smoke. He smiled back, pulling out the chair across from her, fussing about until he had sufficiently arranged his laptop and muffin. He sat down gracefully, crossing his legs at the ankles and pulled out a pack of Parliaments, smoothly removing one while reaching for his lighter. She waited for him to spark it before saying anything.

“So how’s the incubating?”

“It’s shitty. Nothing’s working—recalcitrant science. It’s driving me fucking crazy.”

“Sorry to hear it. But you’ll work it out—you always do.” She looked at him levelly, and smiled a smile that didn’t quite make it to her eyes.

“We’ll see. So…let’s not make this a heavy trip, yeah?”

“When have I ever? Took care of it last time, remember? Do you remember?”

“I do. What the fuck happened, Mavis? I mean, really?”

She was silent for a moment. A crow laughed crazily in the distance, and a group of young, stylish girls walked by—she watched them, marveling at their youth, and easy arrogance. She met his eyes, holding them for a moment before…

He said, “Don’t. Don’t look at me.”

She turned her face to the sun filtering through the birches.

“I don’t need anything. It’s taken care of.”

“Well, I’ll be in Arizona. I did bring the pills—here,” He tossed a tiny baggie filled with nine Percocet down on the table. She picked it up, clenching it in her palm, feeling the pills grinding into one another. She wanted to pulverize them into dust. She wanted to feel the powder on her hands.

“Thank you.”

“It’s fine. I don’t know what to say, babe. Dumb fucking luck. Why did you wait so long?”

“I didn’t notice—I’ve been busy. School, family shit. By the time I realized, I thought maybe…maybe I—we could…” She trailed off and looked at his cigarette. The ash was long, his hand trembled and it fell to the ground. He stared at it for a moment, and then glanced at her.

“Look, I’ve got to go—shit at the lab is ridiculous—fucking Anders keeps looking at me with this disapproval. I’ve been hung-over a lot, and I know he’s thinking I’m a bad scientist. I can feel him judging me. I’m better than that fucking nozzle. Listen, you’ll be fine. Let’s keep this between us, cool?”

“When have I ever not? Yeah, man—I’ll be fine. Have a safe trip, okay? I’ll let you know when it’s done.”

They both stood. He smiled and gave her a brief hug.

“Talk soon, yeah?”

She smiled back, “Yeah. Yes. Soon.”

“Cool. You’re a good girl. Maybe we can get a drink when I get back.”

She sat back down, watched him walk away, blend into the crowd, dissipate.

“I’m a good girl,” She whispered to herself, staring at her cigarette, which had burned out some time ago.


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