Friday, July 22, 2011

Excerpt from SPARKS

Emma backed out of the garage, pulled onto the street, and stepped on the gas, saying “praise be to Blue, and hallelujah!”

Tim looked out the window as we started down the street. "I'll bet no one in heaven still says 'hallelujah,'" he said. "It's probably like saying 'gee golly' on Earth."

I chuckled for the first time in hours.

"Where are we going, anyway?" I asked.

 Emma slammed on the brakes and pulled over onto the side of the street, in front of a yellow house where a bunch of little kids were playing out front. The kids stopped and took a step backwards when Emma stopped the car, like they thought she was a stranger who was going to offer them candy.

“Shit,” she said. “I hadn’t thought of that. I was just veering in the general direction of George the Chili King.”

“We should at least get the checklist out,” said Tim.

He opened the glove compartment and started digging around. “We have a checklist of things to do, see, or find on Holy Quests,” he said. “Some of them are quests in and of themselves, some are just things to do along the way.”

“It’s like playing Auto Bingo,” said Emma. 

Tim handed me back a sheet of paper. I looked out the window to see the kids decide Emma wasn't a threat and go back to playing, then read it.

1. Find and play a “Love Tester” machine.
2. Locate a guy with the same name as a U.S. president and get his autograph.
3. Talk our way into getting to the top floor of the Principle Building (801 Grand).
4. Plant a Pressed Ham at a place patronized by old ladies (or at the Governor’s Mansion).
I looked up from the list. 

“What’s a pressed ham?” I asked.

“It’s where you press your butt cheeks up against a window 
when someone’s sitting on the other side,” said Emma. “We did it at an old lady place, but we should really hit the governor’s mansion, too. Branstad deserves it.”
       “No objections from me,” I said.

I looked back down at the list. 

5. Drink six shots of straight espresso each.
6. Find a waitress named Irene, Wanda or Rhonda.
7. Go inside a teacher’s house.
8. Acquire a statue of a monkey.
9. Find the grave of Tim’s great great great grandpa Harry.
10. Convince a guy with a bad comb-over to shave his head.
11.  Find someone who has a Scottish accent.
12. Touch something from ancient Rome.
13. Pee in the 18th hole of the Waveland Golf Course.
14. Find a guy in a suit and tie at George the Chili King.
15. Shake hands with a bowler who has bowled a perfect 300.
16. Win a game of Bingo (and act all arrogant about it, like Bingo hustlers, yo).
17. Fill Heather Quinn’s shoes with whipped, sour or shaving cream.
18. See a naked person of each gender (live and in person) in the same place at the same time (hands off, Emma!).
19. Break something expensive.
20. Witness a girl-on-girl kiss in which at least one participant has never kissed a girl before (boy-on-boy also acceptable).

All but the last three on the list had check marks next to them. 
       “So you guys did all these things?” I asked.
      “Yeah,” said Emma. “That’s actually our fourth list, too. Some of them take a while, but we meet interesting people, find interesting places, and do amazing things along the way.”
      “Some of these kind of seem like they’re breaking the ‘don’t be an a-hole’ rule,” I said.
      “Maybe a little,” said Emma. “But mostly it’s being a jackass, not an asshole. There’s a difference.”
      “Like when we stole all those Neighborhood Watch Signs,” said Tim. “That sort of toes the line, but proving they didn’t really mean anything seemed like a good idea at the time.”
      “And we’re giving them back,” said Emma. “Our holy quest for spring break is to find really cool places to put them up.”
      “What did you touch from ancient Rome?”
       “They had some old Roman coins at the coin shop on Fleur Drive,” said Tim. “That one was easy. The hardest one on that list was actually finding someone with a Scottish accent in Des Moines.”

“I’ll bet,” I said. “No one emigrates to Iowa.”

”That last one works out perfectly,” said Tim, as he took the list back. “Debbie can kiss Lisa at the end of the night. Who's the patron saint of goal setting?"

"Christ, I don't know!" said Emma. "But blessed be the name of whoever the hell it is, huh? I’ll bet we can do all of those last three things tonight.”

“Anything can happen on a night when you finish off a holy quest checklist,” said Tim. “Especially if you knock three of them off to get there.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “To be totally honest, I think the odds that she’ll end up kissing me tonight are about a million to one.”

“Gotta have faith,” said Tim. “Blue will provide.”

“Still,” I said. “Naked people? Where would you find those?”

“That’s no problem,” said Emma. “I mean, if the night is winding up and we haven’t done either of them we’ll find something to break, and Tim and I’ll get naked behind a bush or something before you talk to Lisa and kiss her. I’d hate for either of you to have to see my fat ass, but we’ll do what we have to.”

“I’ll survive,” said Tim. “I saw already saw it when you planted the pressed ham at the coffee shop. I didn’t die.”

Emma laughed. “I think the old lady who was sitting at the window almost did. She sure screamed loud enough.”

“I’m putting that goal on the next list, too,” said Tim, “but this time the governor’s mansion is a requirement, not an option.”

“Look out, Governor Branstad!” said Emma.

“I still don’t know,” I said. “I’ve never even seen a naked guy before.”

“Well, all the more reason, then,” said Emma. “That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Trying new things?”

“We’re not saying it would straighten you out to see someone’s shlong or anything,” said Tim. “But seeing people naked is like, a life experience thing that everyone ought to do.”

“Whatever,” I said. “Does it even count if I’m the one who sees the people? I’m not Bluish.”

“Anyone coming along on the quest is qualified,” said Emma.

I nodded. “As long as I can keep my clothes on.”
“Oh, you totally can,” Emma said. “We wouldn’t make you do anything you weren’t comfortable with. But if we cross off all three of these tonight, anything can happen. I’m willing to get naked to get us to that point.”

"So, how much time do we have?" asked Tim. “You know when movie they were gonna see starts?”

"Not off the top of my head,” I said. “They had other stuff in the afternoon, but they were going to two of them, so they’re probably at, like, 7 and 9. Angela might know for sure. Let me call her.” 

I reached around behind me for my backpack -- and felt nothing.

Oh, God.

I thought back, and realized I hadn't had it in detention, either. Or in the class before. Or in the bathroom. I’d been in such a haze, and everyone else had been so much into spring break mode, that I hadn’t even thought to pull out a text book. I must have left it at the lunch table when I ran out in a hurry.  

I always do things that. Lisa used to joke that I’d lose my butt if it wasn’t attached.

My chest started to tighten. My guts felt like they were going to come climbing out of my throat. My breathing got really short. My backpack had the list of reasons I was not just a wacky sidekick in it. Including the Big One. Which I had stupidly not written in code or something. 

And now someone else had it.

“Oh, crud,“ I said, starting to shiver. “Oh, crud, crud, crud.”

"What?" asked Tim.

"My backpack... I think I left my backpack at the lunch table! It had my phone... and a list of reasons that I’m not just like Kimmy Gibbler from Full House...”

"So, if whoever has the bag opens it, you're outed?" asked Tim.

I nodded. “If Norman reads it, he’ll tell Lisa and everyone else in the world. And she might feel like she has to prove to him that she’s not gay, too…”

If Lisa found out that I liked girls from me, she’d probably be okay with it, at least. I mean, I didn’t think it was really likely that she’d turn out to be in love with me, too, but she wouldn’t throw a Bible at me or anything. A couple of the ACTs sponsors thought that having gay marriage be legal in Iowa would the end of the world, but Lisa said she didn’t really have a problem with it. I don’t think much of any of the kids in ACTs did.

However, if Norman had my bag, and he found out and told her before I could, he’d probably tell her not to hang out with me anymore. I hoped she’d have the sense to tell him to go to Hell, but she was stuck so far up his butt she could barely see out.

Emma turned back to me and put a hand on each of my cheeks.

“Breathe.” she said. “Just breathe a second. We have this under control.”

I tried to breathe. It helped a bit. Hearing her speak so confidently didn’t exactly reassure me, but it kept me from going into total panic mode.

 “Who do you think might have it?” asked Tim.

”Lisa probably picked it up after lunch,” I said. “Do you have a phone I can use?”

Emma passed me back a phone and I dialed Lisa’s number, but there was no answer. Just her voicemail:

“Hi, this is Lisa. If you’re being chased by a bear, hit the pound sign, then hang up and run in a a zig zag pattern. Otherwise, leave a message.”

The phone beeped, and I said “Hi, Lisa, it’s me, Debbie. I’m on a friend’s phone. Do you have my backpack? Call me at this number, okay? I really need it back.”

 I thought maybe I could call Angela or something, since I needed to know if she knew what movies Lisa and Norman were seeing anyway, but I didn’t know her number. Lisa’s was the only one I really knew offhand. I mean, I never actually dial people’s whole numbers. They’re all saved in my phone. 

I called my own phone, hoping that whoever had it would answer, but it went to voicemail, too.

"Can we just go to Oak Meadow Mills, where Lisa lives?" I asked, handing Emma her phone back. “Her mom might know where she is. And she might have dropped my bag off at her house.”

"Perfect," said Emma. "And Quinn probably won't be heading that way, so it's extra perfect."

“Sounds like a quest has fallen right into our laps,” said TIm. “The Quest for Debbie’s Backpack.”

“If Blue or whoever it is hid my backpack just so we could have a quest, I’m moving to Minnesota and starting my own damn religion,” I said. “One whose whole purpose is to wage war on Bluists.”

"We could use one of those,” said Tim. "It'd be great if we could be oppressed a bit. It'd really bring Bluists together."

"All two of us, yeah," said Emma. “Don’t worry, Deb. Blue wouldn’t pull that kind of crap on you.”

“Can we just go?” I asked.

“Of course.”

And she took off through the streets of Cornersville Trace. We pulled away from the school, past De Gama Park and through the "historic" part of town near the mall and my house. 

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