Ziggy was true to his word. He didn’t make me sit through listening to any of the others. He swigged down the Shirley Temple, coughing a little as if he went too fast, and then we got out of there.
On the sidewalk he stumbled a little and leaned against me. “Ahhhahaha, that was fun. I don’t think any of those people had any idea who we were.”
“Mm, I think about half of them had figured it out by the time you were done,” Jonathan said. “Daron’s shirt was a clue, too.”
I’d forgotten I was wearing the tour shirt. “Oh jeez. Well, twenty people can truthfully claim They Were There.”
J. chuckled. “More like fifty. I counted.”
“Ahhaha! Daron, sing with me next time though.” Ziggy coughed again. “And what kind of moron puts vodka in a Shirley Temple? God, that was awful. I think I’m going to be sick.”
I steadied him. “Seriously?”
“Okay, no, but really. Yuck. Did he think because it was a cover-charge drink I’d feel cheated if he didn’t booze it up? Gack. Or maybe he got the tonic water and the 7-Up buttons mixed up on the gun? Something. But it felt like booze.”
“That’s your performance high,” I said, steering him in the direction of the car.
We walked along without saying anything for a short bit. Then he turned and looked back. “Wait.”
He walked back a few storefronts, to the musical instrument shop. “Seems unfair, doesn’t it?”
“What, that this place hasn’t changed at all, and the place I thought would never change has totally changed?” I asked.
“That the place you loved is gone and the place you hated is still here,” he said, which was more or less the same thing. “Right? You hated this place.”
The next thing I knew, he had picked up a chunk of concrete that was sitting under the blue mailbox at the curb. And the next thing I knew after that, he had smashed the front window.
We ran. Okay? We ran. You’re not really even thinking at a moment like that, other than oh shit oh shit oh shit. Especially if, like me, you feel like the whole evening has done nothing but bust you back to fourteen years old again.
We ran all the way to the car, jumped in, and then caught our breath. Jonathan started the car, actually whistling “casually.” I chuckled a little at that. But okay, we played it cool then, and he turned left out of the parking lot, instead of going back to the main street, running us slowly through the residential streets until we were several blocks away, then making his way back to the county road by feel. Unlike in Massachusetts, where the roads make no sense, in New Jersey you can do that.
We started to laugh when we hit the on ramp to the Parkway. I don’t know why the other two were laughing, but for me it was that the whole night had been so ridiculous.
We cut short though when Ziggy said, “Crap. I’m bleeding.”
My head whipped around so fast I almost injured myself. “Where?”
“Calm down. It’s just a scratch.” He held up his hand.
He had a cut on the back. “How did you get cut there?”
“Held onto the rock too long?” he guessed.
“Shit. Here.” I dug in the pocket of my jacket because there was still that bandage in there I’d been carrying around since Ziggy’s disappearing act earlier. I peeled it open, dabbed at the wound with a tissue from the box sitting between the two front seats, and then slapped it on there. “There. I don’t even think you got blood on anything.”
“Whew, good thing, too. Otherwise I’d be in trouble. Jonathan’s new car and all. Speaking of which, where to next, O driver?”
We were heading north. “Well, the next stop could be the hotel, if you want.”
“What about the Shore?” Ziggy asked.
“It’s too late for the Shore,” I said, checking the dashboard clock. Almost midnight. “On a weeknight? Everything will be closed by the time we get there. I could do with a stop at a diner, though. Please tell me they still have those in this godforsaken state.”
J. nodded his head. “A lot of them have disappeared, but there are still plenty. Let’s play exit roulette and see what we find.”
“You’re the driver.”
“Perth Amboy’s coming up. Surely there’s something there.”
“I know there’s one in Woodbridge. Or there used to be. Crap. I don’t know where anything is anymore.” I looked out the window feeling very raw. I don’t think I felt that bourbon at all. Or the adrenaline from smashing the window had counteracted it and burned it away.
“We’ll find one,” J. assured me. He grinned. “Well, that was more excitement than I planned for. What a great story, though.”
I’m sure it was that I felt like all my nerves had been scraped by barbed wire right then. That’s what made me slap my hands on the dashboard. “No.”
“No?” I think it was Ziggy who said that. I wasn’t sure. You know how people’s vision goes red when they get upset? With me, it’s my hearing that goes.
“No. Fucking no. My life is not a story, J. My fucking life is not a fucking story for you!” I gripped the edge of the dashboard like I could break it. “Off the record, do you hear me? Absolutely everything that we’ve seen or done tonight is off the fucking record, okay?”
“If you’re worried about the window–” Ziggy started to say. That was definitely Ziggy that time.
“I’m not worried about the fucking window! I’m–!” Too upset to finish a sentence, apparently. I settled for, “God damn it, Jonathan.”
J. to his credit didn’t drive off the road or anything. He was much calmer, outwardly anyway, than I was. “I’m sorry, Daron. I wasn’t thinking. I… I should’ve asked first.”
“I’m not your pet rock star,” I added. It came out sounding less stupid then than it does now, I promise. I can’t even tell you why I felt so hurt and betrayed at that moment. He was right: it was a good story. And no, me being upset didn’t have anything to do with the window.
“I know you’re not.” J. swallowed. “And I didn’t mean it that way. Honestly, Daron. I wasn’t thinking straight. I’m not used to fleeing the scenes of crimes. But! But that’s no excuse. It was thoughtless of me. I’m sorry. God, I’m sorry.”
“Okay,” I muttered, which was my grudging way of saying I accepted the apology if it meant the subject was closed.
We went several miles in silence. Then Ziggy said, “I think you’ll feel better when you have some food.”
I hung my head as I realized I could not actively remember what I’d eaten last. That usually meant it had been too long since I had. I had probably picked at the catering some while talking to people?
Maybe not. “Yeah,” I said. It couldn’t make me feel worse, certainly.