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Heart Doesn't Beat the Same

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[At the center of the Earth in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven where I was taught/The motto was just a lie/It says “Home is where the heart is” but what a shame ‘cause everyone's heart doesn’t beat the same/It’s beating out of time]

You didn’t usually tell the rest of your household where you were going when you headed out, so when you notified your family that you were going to the nearest convenience store you half-suspected they would be at least a tiny bit curious.

“Why are you telling me? You’re not planning on doing anything illegal, are you?”

“No. You want anything?”

“Just bring back a six pack.”

“Of what?”

“Anything.”

“‘Kay.”

The door slammed shut and you stepped off the porch, wondering if any of them were aware there was no way you were bold enough to ask someone twenty one or older to buy liquor for you, or even if “anything” meant “alcohol”. Realizing that no one handed you money, you decided to buy the cheapest available soda.

Earlier that week, Jimmy asked you if you wanted to hang out at one of his favorite haunts. What did the the majority of 7-Eleven’s parking lot regulars look like? Edgy middle class teens and twenty-somethings who were enamoured with countercultures from the past couple of decades, most likely. You wondered if anyone would mistake you and him for a couple.

“What are you smiling for?”

Glancing to your right, you saw Jimmy cut through someone’s lawn.

Your existence, you thought.

“Nothing, I was just thinking about what kind of soda I was going to bring back.”

“What kind do you want?”

“It’s not for me. It’s for my family.”

“How much are you planning on getting?”

“I was instructed to get a six pack.”

He gave you a vexed look, but you didn’t feel like he was annoyed at you.

“What’s the cheapest kind they have?”

“Why are you asking me?” he questioned, snorting a little. “We’re just outside.” He looked thoughtful. “Usually. Sometimes I grab a bag of chips or something.”

“By ‘grab’, do you mean...?”

“Why would I shoplift? I literally hang out there all the ti-” he cut you off, before cutting himself off when he noticed your expression.

And you never invited me before ‘cause…?

“I invited you here because we’re ‘besties’-” You grimaced, remembering the term his last girlfriend

What’s his new name for her? “Whatsername”, no astrophe, no hyphens.

used. Her dislike was clear and she made passive-aggressive comments directed towards you in front of him. Even back at the beginning of their brief period of going steady, he made sure you two were never alone together.

Her abuse had just gotten worse after an incident where Jimmy’s need to pee was overshadowed by his fear of you two unleashing your inner betta.

“I’ll just let my juice loose over here,” he declared, lining up by the edge of the overpass.

Here?” sputtered Ol’ Whatsername.

You were caught so off guard Jimmy managed to zip his fly all the way down before you looked away and accidentally established eye contact with her. Her lips pursed while your mouth just involuntarily opened and closed, like a fish.

“-but we mostly hang out at school. You don’t even like my house parties, you antisocial bitch.”

It was your turn to snort. It wasn’t that you didn’t like going over to his house (he told you his mother was much kinder when you were around). It was that you really weren’t like his other friends. It wasn’t special snowflake syndrome, you just didn’t find it easy to relate to his associates, the… neo-punks. And it wasn’t like you could just chill in the lavatory until playtime was over.

“Sid Vicious-wannabe bastard,” you playfully fired back. He ran his hand through his hair.

“You’ve been a single for a while, haven’t you?”

For a split second, you were so aware of his being next to you, his breathing… that you almost tripped over your own feet until you were conscious of his footsteps.

“There’s, a reason for that.”

“Maybe you’ll meet someone you’ll like.”

I already have someone I more-than-like, you thought, feeling exasperated. This was the first time he’d ever brought up anything like this.

“You’re… Playing matchmaker?”

“[name] needs to get laid”, you could imagine him thinking.

“Have anyone in mind?” you continued.

Jimmy looked down at the pavement. “Nah. Actually, a lot of guys there are jerks.

“Forget I said anything.”
***
Even though you were wearing an outfit you specifically chose to feel comfortable in, you knew you were standing out. You knew your proximity to Jimmy was too close. Your heart was beating so hard you had a brief vision of it exploding out your chest.

“Why aren’t you blinking?” Jimmy whispered, not quietly enough. You tried to lose awareness of your now rapidly fluttering eyelids.

“Here, hold onto my cigs,” he said a little louder, laying the box in your upturned palm.

You involuntarily swallowed, taking note of how dry your mouth was.

Get sip of water, go to ladies’ room, purchase soda, your mind urgently spat out as a pretty bottle redhead strolled up to you. Perfect way to excuse yourself.

“Jimmy,” she breathed. You winced.

[City of the dead/At the end of another lost highway/Signs misleading to nowhere/City of the damned/Lost children with dirty faces today/No one really seems to care]

Instead of immediately going in by yourself, you hung outside, leaning against the window…trying to look carefree and not surly at all…while your best friend and a girl who looked like an alt. model ducked inside, “for a bit”.

“Do you mind if I steal him for a bit?” she’d asked you, immediately after the brief introduction. You smiled with the utmost benevolence, nodding.

Why not? Ol’ Whatsername decided to “steal him for a bit” too, and that turned out okay for me in the end.

“[name]?” an unfamiliar voice tried out. To your left were three people just sitting down on the concrete, two guys and a girl with a soft drink in hand.

“Are you with the Jesus?” the bearded one questioned.

“Is your friend looking to convert or a Big Lebowski fan?” you asked the one with the cap. The girl took her mouth off the straw and laughed.

“No, no. I mean the Jesus of Suburbia.”

You stared blankly at him.

“Are you with St. Jimmy?” he tried.

He has a couple of monikers, doesn’t he?

“No, we’re-”

...just…

“-friends,” you answered, realizing you might have misunderstood his question.

“Does he know that?” the girl teased. She said a feminine name. “...sure doesn’t.”

It was hard to raise your eyebrow nonchalantly, but you thought you managed it. Thankful that you didn’t know how to spell the synthetic redhead’s name (that probably meant Jimmy didn’t either), you thought it would be easier for that punkette to become a Whatsername if things even went that far.

“Can we have some ‘ciiigs’?” asked the girl, who gave you an exaggerated frown when you shook your head.

“These are Jimmy’s. I’m just holding them.”

“Why the hell would you ask [name] that?”

“Come on, I’m sure he can forgive a pretty face and a great pair of tits.”

You weren’t sure who she was referring to. You also wondered if these guys would even speak to you if the girl wasn’t there and you hadn’t arrived with Jimmy.

Or what soda girl would-

“I need to get some soda.”

“You can have some of mine,” she said sweetly, holding up her cup.

“Don’t do it! Imagine the backwash.”

“Shut up,” she retorted.

[I read the graffiti in the bathroom stall like the holy scriptures of the shopping mall/And so it seems to confess/It didn’t say much but it only confirmed that the center of the Earth is the end of the world/And I could really care less]

Perusing the slightly disappointing selection of soft drinks, you realized that if you just hung around outside with a six pack of anything (even if it was non-alcoholic), more than one person would come up to you and try to cajole you out of a bottle.

Strawberryhead was browsing the chips near a restroom, bored. She turned around to look at you and smiled softly.

I wonder if I could pull off that color better… Probably not.

“Celebrating anything with that cherry ‘pop’?” she asked, winking.

“Wha-? Oh. No.”

Haha, making a joke at the soda’s expense.

“I’m just getting some to bring home.”

She tilted her head. “You’re going to drink all that, by yourself?”

Jesus, I am not holding a two liter bottle. What does she take me for?

Revealing that the only reason you bought anything today was because your family told you to wasn’t going to win you any street cred.

“Not all at once.” Before you could stop yourself, you offered her a bottle once you paid for it.

“No thanks,” she replied, muttering something about “health”.

Judging her by the rest of that posse of “St. Jimmy’s”, she probably at least drank in moderation and smoked the occasional mary jane. You suspected that Ol’ Whatsername snorted coke, because Jimmy only started doing it after meeting her. Luckily, he saw how furious upset you were by this and stopped. No evidence of other hard drugs, but you were on the lookout.

“So, how long have you known Jimmy?” she asked and you told her, even telling her a few stories that you were pretty sure couldn’t be twisted to her advantage in any way.

“I’ve been to his house before,” she stated. You stared at her, realizing that she and Jimmy probably knew each other much better than you originally thought. “Parties, you know?”

And maybe you’ve even gone on a date or two.

She looked away for a few seconds. “[name], does his mom have a fetish for the name ‘Bradley’ or something?”

I have a fetish for the name “Jimmy”, your mind offered. Speaking of names, I wouldn’t have a problem with you never saying mine again, or Jimmy’s without the “Saint” in front of it, New Whatsername.

“There’s that guy who actually goes by ‘Bradley’, then one guy who has that as a last name, then there’s ‘Brad’…”

“Could you hold this?” you asked, pushing the six pack into her chest. Caught off guard, she awkwardly grasped it with her bejeweled fingers. “I need to go.”

“Where-?” she began, misunderstanding. “Wait, that’s-!”

You turned around to glance at her before opening the door to the restroom and locking it. Turning around, you came face to face with Jimmy, his eyes wide and his mouth open, perturbed.
***
“This is the men’s room,” he said, doleful expression gone.

“I can see that now.”

At his house, his mother frequently complained that he left the door open while taking a leak. It didn’t surprise you that he neglected to lock the door at 7-Eleven, you were just thankful you hadn’t caught him with his pants around his ankles.

“Here are your cigs back,” you said, tossing them to him. He swiftly caught them.

Your new lover’s hair color is as artificial as what I could see of her personality which is as artificial as the ingredients in the cherry soda I’m going to buy.

“You were suppose-” he started, before cutting himself off. “Never mind.”

“I need to pee. And you threw a cigarette in the toilet.”

That unnerved look in his eyes didn’t go away but he chuckled. Your bladder was filling up pretty quickly but you had no interest in leaving Jimmy and his new lady alone just yet.

“Turn around.”

He did so. As you were washing your hands, pondering the offbeat graffiti, you heard him sigh.

“See you.”

“Wait!”

You didn’t. Strawberryhead was gawking at you. Thanking her for looking after your sodas, you grabbed the six pack and went to get them checked out. Thoughtlessly, you looked back at the corner of the store. She was still standing there alone, facing the door this time. It was just now you realized that it was marked “Employees Only”.

[City of the dead/At the end of another lost highway/Signs misleading to nowhere/City of the damned/Lost children with dirty faces today/No one really seems to care]

The sky was darkening. On the few occasions you arrived back home at twilight, your family was just satisfied you came home before the stars were out.

You reckoned you should have confessed your feelings when they first appeared, but you weren’t entirely sure when they manifested. Most, if not all, crushes were like that, you mused, and yours was pretty intense.

“The people you were talking to outside,” your best friend said as he passed you. He skidded to a halt before matching you step by step. “You were supposed to offer them some.”

“Some what?”

“Cigarettes. They would have no, but you would have looked cooler.”

“One of them asked me.”

“Was it the girl?” he asked. You nodded without looking at him. “Remember how I broke up with Ol’ Whatsername? Yeah, she told people about it. It… added to my reputation.”

“You’re fucking just a pair of tits. That’s all you’ll ever be to me.” You were so distraught when you told me what your last words to her were, even though she was the unfaithful one.

“Added to your repu… What, as a boob man?”

He actually laughed at that. Then he told you about what happened when he finally left the bathroom. About how she’d gotten tired of waiting as he vandalized the walls, and he didn’t blame her. About how she was greedily drinking out of a brown paper bag and some guy was caking and she was letting him feel her up. Jimmy stopped right there, and you got the feeling that wasn’t all that went down in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven after you left.

I haven’t heard him say her name once.

“Were you seriously interested in her?” you questioned, not unkindly.

“Not for long term,” he confessed, maybe to himself as well as you.

The only noise you paid attention to for a while was the syncing of your slow and steady footfalls. Your house was in view but he laid his arm in front of you, barring the way.

“You know how I said you would have looked cooler if you’d offered them one of my cigs?” You nodded, looking at his face this time. “I saw you standing there, but- back pressed against the window, talking to those guys. You already looked so cool.”

Your eyes widened. “So, all those times I caught you peeing…?”

“What? No, no. Hell no. That didn’t have anything to do with it. I just... I…”

Frustrated, he ran his hands through his hair, throwing his upper body forward before letting go, his back straight again. Your heart seemed to cease beating before rapidly pulsing back to life.

“I want to go on a date with you.”

“What would we do?” you asked, before you could stop yourself.

Anything. Anything you want.”

You turned around so you were standing in front of him, gazing intently into his eyes.

“Even tossing Funions up into the air so I can catch them with my mouth?”

“Okay, but we can’t buy the Funions at 7-Eleven, and not for the reasons you're thinking. I... destroyed the bathroom sink out of rage.”