“I know you hate me right now.”
“I don’t hate you, Trey. We’ve been together for so many years, I couldn’t hate you even if I tried.”
“I’m not deserting you,” he says. “Just go with me. Okay, it’s not destiny. I just need to focus. We don’t have to tell anyone we broke up until after the dance so there’s no drama. Cool?”
Lie to my friends?
Pretend we’re fine when we fell apart?
“I don’t want to lie to them,” I say.
He sighs. I can feel the stress permeating off him. “Can you just do me this one favor?”
He doesn’t say it, but it hits me. I know he wants to focus on the football game because scouts will be attending. He doesn’t want drama or rumors to impact his concentration.
I take a deep breath, then swallow the despair welling in my throat. “Okay, Trey. I won’t say anything.”
I can tell by the way his leg is shaking that the drug is starting to kick in. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he says. “I’d never want to hurt you. I’ll always love you.”
I gaze at the bag of pills he still has in his hand. “Just so you know, by taking those drugs you’re playing a dangerous game. Stop now before you kill yourself, Trey. Please. I beg you. I’ll always love you and want the best for you, even if we’re not together,” I add, then turn on my heel to leave. “But it’s not my job to protect you anymore.”
“Just promise me one thing. Don’t tell anyone about the drugs,” he says, practically begging. “Take it to the grave. Please, Monika. It’ll ruin me.”
I nod slowly. “I promise, Trey. I won’t tell a soul. Ever.”
Isa is standing over the books, shaking her head. “I’m in trouble.”
“With what?” I ask.
“Money.” She turns the pages over in her bookkeeping log and uses her calculator to add stuff up. “It’s not enough,” she says. “Hell, Vic, it’s never enough.”
“How much in total do you owe?”
I walk up to her and wonder how she got herself into this mess. “How much are you short?”
“Four hundred for this month’s mortgage payment,” she says. “I’ll figure it out. Maybe they’ll let me extend the loan if I give them more interest.”
“I’ll give you four hundred dollars,” Bernie chimes in from the back of the garage. He’s been working silently for the past hour on soldering some old parts together so they’ll fit the vintage parts Isa has stored in the back.
“I don’t want your money, Bernie,” Isa calls out. “Besides, I fired you. Remember?”
“Yeah, I remember. How about you go on a date with me, then you can fire me afterward. Deal?”
“Nope. I don’t need your money.” Isa walks back to her office. “I’ll just ask the bank to cut me some slack.”
“Yeah, because that always works,” I say sarcastically.
“It’s worth a try,” she mumbles.
“I don’t know why she won’t take help from me,” Bernie says to me. “I’ve offered to help her out a hundred times.”
“Maybe she doesn’t want to rely on anyone for help,” I tell him. “Besides, I think she hates you.”
Bernie waves a hand in the air. “Don’t let her ambivalence fool you. I’m breaking her down.”
“I can hear you!” Isa yells from her office. “And Vic’s right, Bernie. I do hate you!”
“How can you hate me? I didn’t do anything,” Bernie says.
An exaggerated huff fills the air. “Your mere existence grates on my nerves, nerd,” Isa says.
Instead of being insulted, Bernie winks at me. “She’s weakening. Hell, I bet one day she’ll even go out with me.”
Isa comes storming back into the shop with her hands on her hips. “Keep dreaming, Bernie. I mean, look at you.” She gestures to his entire body. “Your hair looks like Howdy Doody, your skin is so white I need fucking sunglasses to come near you, and you couldn’t dress yourself properly if someone put a gun to your head.”
“Bernie, don’t listen to her,” I tell him. “She’s just a bitter woman.”
“Fuck you, Vic,” Isa says. “You don’t know shit.”
“It’s fine,” Bernie says, obviously amused by Isa’s harsh words.