map “No kiss?”

by Michael Solana

Published in Issue No. 162 ~ November, 2010

There were two gun stands on the boardwalk where you shot out the star and won a prize, and Patrick ran the one on the south pier and was preternaturally charming and used his powers exclusively to make money and get laid. If no one was playing his game, there was a girl, at least, who was smiling and leaning over, and taking shots for free. He played guitar and wrote stories on the back of paper targets and sent me to get milk shakes for him when his sugar was low and he was feeling tired but couldn’t shake his customers; a diabetic, he told me he would die young. I was 16 and in love with him. And a boy.

Patrick lived down the street from the ocean in a beach shack with Ashley, who worked with us and ran the cigarette stand and chain-smoked. She was a raver, and her boyfriend was a raver, and she had a bumper sticker on her car that said “raving is not a crime.” She felt very strongly about this, and we talked about it often. She also had a bumper sticker on her car of a mushroom with a fairy on it, but that is neither here nor there. A bunch more of us worked at my boss’s record stand, Patrick and Ashley sometimes too, and I was the youngest. I was their little brother, kind of, and they all wanted to corrupt me. Especially Ashley, who actually said it every now and then.

“I’m going to corrupt you, Skippy,” she said.

They called me that, Skippy, because I was happy when I worked, and in general. “Okay,” I said.

That’s all that you can say to that. Trust me, I’ve thought a lot about it.

“You need to be corrupted,” she said, “and I’m going to corrupt you,” she said again.

I suppose she succeeded, in part. Today I know my rights and my punk rock and am familiar with all of the drugs one should be familiar with. I know how to make enough money in a bar at the end of the night to pay for disco fries and black coffee and a pack of smokes for three people in the diner at five a.m., and I can do it with only a hat and the willingness to lip sync and dance a little. I know how to take care of drunks – not drunk people, but drunks – and how to take care of myself when I am drunk. I know what roads to take to avoid the D.U.I. checkpoints on Friday and Saturday night; I know to call back and activate the phone tree when I see one on a Wednesday; and anyway, I know the cops, so it mostly doesn’t matter. We all look out for each other.

But a lot happened before I woke up in Patrick’s bed on the morning of my birthday, and don’t get too excited – he was on the couch, in the living room. I was still in high school that spring, and he went to the community college, so our boss got us to work weekends when it was nice out. There were a handful of summer employees who weren’t away at college, and who probably could have worked, but we were two of my boss’s favorites. I liked to be there, which I’m sure was a part of it. I was very fond of my boss and of the stands. There was a history there that exhilarated me. Also, there was Patrick, and like I said before, I was deeply, stupidly, think-about-it-every-night and invite-him-to-my-play in love. Nobody knew. Ashley maybe knew a little later on.

We worked five stands at once sometimes when it was slow – you could do that in April – so we got to spending lots of time together. One of us would open, and the other’d come with coffee, and then we’d sit on the counter of one of the stands with our legs out over the boardwalk and laugh about something Eddie said. Eddie was the IRA fugitive who ran the pizza place with the cheapest slice for workers, and he hated Patrick.

“I’m going to stab you in the belly,” he said one time, which was funny enough before the accent. “I’m going to do it with this knife, too. Look at this knife. I’m going to put it in your belly.”

Patrick got a henna tattoo of a bull’s eye and the phrase “in the belly” just beside his navel after that. He showed everyone. He took to never wearing his shirt. I started to legitimately fear for his life, and this was before I realized the depth of my feelings for him.

“He’s going to kill you,” I said. “Stop antagonizing him. He’s crazy.”

“He’s just Irish,” said Patrick.

“I’m Irish,” I said. “Well, half. Ish.”

“So am I,” said Patrick. “So is everyone.”

“You’re American.”

Eddie snuck up on us.

“You’re lazy and you’re disrespectful and you don’t understand the value of a dollar. Give me your hammer,” he said.

He was partners with my boss so I helped him when he asked. I hopped into the stand, found our tools in the back very quickly, and came out with the hammer. Neither of them had spoken. I was grateful for this. They were leaning against the stand and looking in opposite directions. Patrick was smiling. I think he liked Eddie. He told me once that his grandpa was a lot like Eddie.

“Here,” I said.

Eddie turned around and took the hammer. “What, were you taking a crap in there? Unbelievable.”

He looked at Patrick and scoffed, then walked away.

“Why does he hate you so much?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Patrick. “I didn’t mop the floor back when we were building the pizza place. He asked if I thought I was too good for it and I said yes. Maybe that. It’s pretty funny, though. He’s a pretty funny guy.”

“I think he really wants to kill you,” I said.

“Nah,” said Patrick, “nobody wants to kill anybody. We all just want to get laid and sometimes to eat. Even him.”

He was still looking off into the distance and said this very profoundly.

“Oh,” I said.

I tried to meditate on the things he said profoundly.

“Have you ever had sex?” he asked.

I didn’t say anything.

“I didn’t think so,” he said.

“I didn’t say anything,” I said.

“One day you’ll have sex,” he said, and turned to me, and he was smiling again. “I’d have sex with you if you had a vagina.”

“You’ll have sex with anybody who has a vagina,” I said.

He reached over real fast with both hands on my sides and tickled me, then punched me in the shoulder. “I’ve got to practice.”

He practiced with the targets all the time. He said it helped him think. Sometimes he wore his hat backwards and drank whiskey from a flask while he shot, which was affected but hot. I felt very light-headed and anxious but didn’t smoke cigarettes yet, so I sat down and thought about everything that led up to him tickling me while he walked back to the gun stand. Was that weird? I wondered. I decided that it wasn’t weird, and I thought about how misunderstood Patrick was. He was very sensitive and thought a lot about the world and the universe and What It All Meant, I decided. Also, Eddie was wrong. Patrick was a hard worker. He just didn’t want to mop the floor. I bet Eddie asked him in such a way that nobody would want to mop the floor. You had to ask people nicely. My mom said that, but it was true.

We worked all day and night and it got pretty busy.

“It’s rigged,” said a redneck who smelled like beer.

This was nothing unusual. We got it at all of the stands just as often as we were asked for the rules of whatever game we were running, and I guess the games were rigged, but not to be impossible. They were all just harder than they looked and Patrick said “it’s not a scam, buddy, you just suck.”

The redneck was with his girlfriend who had a pot belly and who also smelled like beer. “Fuck you, man.”

“I’m not trying to be an asshole,” said Patrick. “Just look at the star. You hardly shot it out at all, not even after I gave you those hundred extra shots for fun.”

He was trying to be an asshole. You were supposed to be an asshole with some people at games like that. It made them angry, which made them want to prove that you wrong and show you how good they were, especially when they were drinking and with their girlfriend who was also drinking – and so not saying, “No, it’s fine. Let’s go, baby. Let’s just go already.”

“Yeah?” said the redneck.

“Yeah,” said Patrick. “That’s the truth.”

“I bet you can’t do it,” said the redneck. “No one can do it.”

“I do it every day,” said Patrick. “I could do it in my sleep.”

“You’re a liar,” said the redneck.

At this point there was a crowd because the redneck was pretty loud and Patrick was performing, sort of, and drawing people in with his body language. It was a good way to drum up customers. I was there to give him a break and to call the cops if there was any trouble, which there could have been. Trouble was always a possibility, in the first place, but that guy was wearing a NASCAR shirt. Patrick laughed.

“I bet you a hundred dollars,” he said, and took a hundred dollars from his money belt and slapped it on the ledge beside the shots.

Someone said “oh, shit!”

“I’ll do it right now,” said Patrick.

The redneck had a few hundred-dollar bills in his wallet. Incidentally, his Reeboks had holes in them. The redneck put his money down on top of Patrick’s, bet it and lost it and everyone cheered. He was somehow more impressed than embarrassed, and I didn’t have to call the cops. Patrick hustled customers like this before and had a taste for it. He could shoot the star completely out 3 times out of 5, and was 4 for 5 when there was pressure on him. 99 out of 100 people couldn’t do it at all. But that was the night he finally realized that he was incredible at the game. I imagine it was hard for him because he was so completely full of bullshit all the time, but you can’t make talent up.

Straightforward skill games like that – where there’s a kind of a trick to it, but it isn’t a matter of chance at all, and you really just have to have a good eye and to practice a lot – were the harder things to win on the boardwalk. The gun game was the hardest, with the most expensive prizes, and ours, said Patrick – with a devilish kind of crinkle at the corners of his eyes while he thought up his mischief – was only one of two.

The next morning the sun was shining off the ocean like it sometimes does – cuts of yellow fire in the glassy sheets and shine off the clouds that looked like backlit silk – and Patrick rode up on a bicycle with his shirt off and the yellow all around him. He was smiling and looking smug and triumphant.

“Please tell me that you didn’t steal that,” I said.

He stole a bike from one of the other stand owners the June before and raised it up a flag pole between the piers. Our boss was a hippie and told great stories and paid us too much, so he inspired a fairly fanatical loyalty in us without really trying, and when the other owners screwed with him – because they were jealous of his property, his business sense, his strangely-caring-if-unpredictable pack of misfit employees – they incurred our wrath.

“I won it at the other gun stand,” said Patrick. “I won a nicer one, too, but sold it. This one’s going in our stand.”

It was the start of a season of this. He was banned from shooting at the gun stand on the north pier three times by three different managers and started to stalk the place and wait for attendants who he didn’t know, or who were only giving breaks. He won eleven bikes and a boom box that summer.

“As a prize?” I asked.

He nodded enthusiastically.

“Can you do that?” I asked.

“It’s a free country,” said Patrick, and that was the moment.

That was the moment I knew that I loved him.

“Oh,” I said.

It was hard to make sense of what was really happening after that. He said “you’re funny” and I heard “I like you.” Just that sort of stuff that everyone knows about. But I saw it everywhere, then, and realized it had been that way for a long time.

I told Patrick I was coming to work early to fix up the candy stand, and he showed up and asked me to breakfast. It didn’t matter that I just paid for a slice. He had me bring it to the place that made the waffles across the street, took a huge bite of my pizza with cheese all over the place, and bought me orange juice and told me all about the girl who gave him a hand job at the movie theater on Friday. Or we sat really close during a weirdly-cold thunderstorm and – I swear to God – shared a blanket while we talked about an idea he had for a movie: three friends smoke up and discuss “what is real and not real” and “what is society” in a mini van that the twenty-six-year old borrowed from his mom.

Eddie walked up to ask for a screwdriver and said we looked like boyfriends, and Pat was speechless. He was never speechless. He should have had an asshole thing to say about how Eddie sounded like that cartoon leprechaun who sold cereal or about how he was fifty and nobody loved him – not even his mother, who was remarried to an African aristocrat or bureaucrat or democrat or something and didn’t even see her son on Christmas when he flew back to Cork. Or there were glances every day that made me blush and sick to my stomach while I wondered what the hell it meant when he said that he’d give me a ride home but that I had to give him road head. They were obviously jokes, I thought. He was joking. But he was only joking with me. There were a hundred conversations that ended with us being quiet but looking at each other and not really knowing what just passed between us, or why we stopped talking, before he said, for no apparent reason, that he preferred to hit on chubby girls.

“Ask him why,” said Ashley. “You’re such a pig, Patrick. You’re disgusting. Go ahead, Skippy. Ask him why he only hits on fat girls.”

But she was enjoying this. Patrick was especially endearing when he was terrible.

“I don’t only hit on fat girls,” he said, and then to Ashley, “What’s your problem with fat girls? Not everyone smokes her dinner. Is that a crime? Lots of different shapes out there. It’s like Pokémon. You ‘gotta catch ‘em all.’ Broaden your horizons, shit. Read a book or something.”

“Don’t listen to him,” said Ashley. “For a whole month he’s only hit on fat girls and he told me why. It’s because he thinks they’re easy, and he’s lazy, and I don’t hate them, by the way. I feel bad for them when they think he likes them and then they never see him again. It’s hard enough as it is living with the major psychological issues they all must have that got them to touch this walking Petri dish in the first place.”

“I’m not lazy,” said Patrick.

“You’re a lazy son of a bitch,” said Ashley. “You smoked too much pot and now it’s in your philosophy, that’s what happened.”

“Deep,” said Patrick.

“Go to hell,” said Ashley.

“She’s just jealous,” said Patrick.

Ashley developed an anxiety problem after an overdose of some kind of prescription drug, and she couldn’t handle psychedelics anymore. Sometimes she had to take a minute in the back and close her eyes and take deep breaths.

“How often do you smoke?” I asked Patrick.

“Every day,” said Ashley.

“I smoke every couple days,” said Patrick.

“I think I want to smoke,” I said.

I did all the research online and was satisfied that it wouldn’t addict me or kill me or make me hallucinate to the degree that I might jump off a building because I thought I could fly. My health teacher said that hallucinations like that happened all the time, but she was lying or incredibly stupid. Either was possible; she was a health teacher. Also, my mom told me that she smoked once and saw giant cockroaches crawling all over the ceiling and couldn’t stop being high and thought she was in Hell. But she went to Catholic school and has a lot of guilt in general, and I decided after my research that she smoked something laced with something else.

“You want to smoke?” asked Ashley. “Marijuana?”

Patrick tilted his head down and folded his arms and smiled like I was walking for the first time and it was funny, kind of, but he didn’t want to discourage me. I wasn’t funny, he meant to assure me, but the situation was very funny. He was proud and he approved. “This weekend’s your birthday. We’ll have a party at our place. I’ll invite everyone. We can smoke then.”

“Yessss,” said Ashley.

The party was a lot of fun, and everyone came, and I did smoke my first joint, which was rolled with flavored paper and had little cherries printed on it. I shotgunned my first beer, too, which is when you punch a hole in the bottom of the can then pop the tab and drink from the cut. Typically you race with someone, but I imagine you can do it by yourself if you want to be funny or something. I also shotgunned the joint, which is a completely different experience – less competitive, more sexual. The first person turns a joint around with the ember in his mouth and leans over to the second person like he’s going to kiss him, then blows into his mouth while the second person inhales. Patrick wanted to do this, and with me in particular. Then he made fun of two gay guys holding hands on TV and for a second I thought I was going to die, but I was fine. I was used to not understanding Patrick minute to minute, and I was drunk and high and belonged where I was, with those people. It was one of the pleasantest nights of my life, and when it came time to crash everyone left but me, and Patrick made me sleep in his room.

That’s how I woke up in his bed and could smell him even though he wasn’t there, and I pretended for a second that he was. I was young and very silly like that when I had a crush. And this was more than a crush. This was a pathology. This was a psychosis. This made me incorrigible on a bad day, when he didn’t pay attention to me, or when he avoided me in a crowd of our friends or acted differently, and it made me scarily happy on a good day, when he came up to me after jogging, for example, and said “I’m so tired!” and wrapped his arms around me and put his forehead on my forehead and stayed there just a second longer than he should have – a second longer than was friendly – and got some of his sweat on me. My sister asked if I was depressed. My mom, shrewder than that, asked if I was “sexually active.” I slammed my door and said that she was unbelievable. She knocked and opened it a little and asked if I was actually depressed. I was plagued both by the sense that there was something between Patrick and I, some charge, some impulse, and by the fact that this could not happen. It was impossible. I was delusional. I was a boy, and a friend. But I was in his bed. There was no making that up.

I noticed an empty condom wrapper on the floor, just laying there. It was the closest I’d ever been to sex. It was light blue. I picked it up and put it back down very quickly. Then I got up and tiptoed to the bathroom. When I came out Patrick was awake, smiling at me from the couch, but kind of sleepy looking still. His shirt was off, a thin sheet over his waist. He reached down and scratched himself.

“Happy birthday.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“How’d you sleep?”

“Well. You?”

“Like a baby. What are you doing today?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Nothing.”

“I want to hang out with you. I don’t have cake or anything. Let’s go someplace.”

“I should get home and get changed,” I said.

“I’ll come with you.”

So we drove to my house, and while I dressed inside he undressed outside. It was very hot out and I had a pool. He was in his underwear when I found him, and insisted I put on a bathing suit real quick and we go swimming. I did, because Patrick was in his underwear and asked me. We horsed around in the water for a while. He dunked me a few times, and then my dad showed up to trim the hedges or something and we said hi and he said hi and then it was awkward – for me; Patrick was very conversational.

“Are you two planning on driving around?” my dad asked.

“Maybe,” I said.

“Well there’s supposed to be a storm,” my dad said. “Be careful. Who’s driving?”

“I’m driving,” I said.

My dad didn’t like that. I only just got my license. He shook his head and said “okay.” We showered off and left.

We went and got ice cream, first, and then drove around for a while to kill some time before a movie. Patrick smoked in the car before we went inside – I said “no thanks” – and he laughed inappropriately throughout the entire thing. I looked at him in the dark to see if he was looking at me, but I don’t think he was. He was really enjoying the movie and being high and when it ended he said it was great and I thought that was it, but he insisted that we go back to his place in Seaside because he had a song he wanted me to hear.

I drove fast over the bridge. Too fast, and that storm was rolling in. The clouds were very dark and the bay was very choppy. I looked at my speedometer and saw that I was breaking the law.

“Shit,” I said, “I’m twenty miles over the speed limit! How did that happen?”

“I know,” said Patrick, “I was going to say something. Just relax. Slow down.”

“Okay,” I said.

He put his hand on my shoulder for a second and massaged it and laughed. “Relax.”

I was nervous and cold, and five minutes later, for the second time in one day, I was in Patrick’s bed, and don’t get too excited – he was still not in it. He was in his chair right next to me with his guitar. He grabbed a book on the desk and asked me if I’d ever read it. I said I hadn’t.

“It’s about experience,” he said. “This guy’s pretty smart. You should read it when I’m done. He says, you know, people only want to experience one kind of thing. They want to feel pleasure. They want the food they know they like, and they want to live in the place they grew up in, or in the place they think is cool because of the place they grew up in. Remember when I said people only want to have sex? It’s like that, and even then. They only want to have one kind of sex, with one kind of person.”

I checked to see if the condom wrapper was still on the floor. It was not. I wondered when he picked it up.

“But this guy says, no way. That’s not life. You want to live? Sure, go sip frozen drinks by the beach and get a foot massage or something, but also, put your hand on a table and drive a nail through it. You should know what that feels like. If you die and you’ve never felt that – you never will. It’s an experience you missed. You know?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Anyway,” he said, “I don’t know. I don’t think I’m explaining it right.”

“No,” I said, “I get it.”

He put the book down and strummed his guitar.

“I wrote a new song,” he said. “Want to hear it?”

He wrote a lot of funny songs about McDonald’s drive-throughs and bowling alleys and mall parking lots, places he said that people never sang about but that were actually where we did most of our living. He also wrote a lot of songs about getting laid.

“Yeah,” I said. “Play it.”

“Whenever I like a girl I write a song about her,” he said.

“I didn’t know that,” I said. “Who’s this one about?”

He shook his head. He wasn’t smiling. “You don’t know her.”

I think he played the song. To be honest, I don’t remember it. I remember him holding his guitar and talking about the song, and I remember him strumming his guitar while we were talking about the book, and the weather, and then I think he played something, but my next memory is of a long quiet and then him reaching down and grabbing my foot – I keep saying “bed,” but it was just a mattress on the floor, so he had to bend over.

“Here, let me show you something,” he said, and cracked the knuckles in my foot.

“Jesus,” I said.

It was really loud, and it felt really good.

“Give me your other one.”

I did, and he cracked the knuckles in that one too.

We heard thunder outside. It was nothing enormous, but you could tell it would be pretty soon. He stared at me, and I wondered if he would kiss me. I wondered that a few times that day, and thought it was stupid every time I did. I decided it was stupid then, too, but a little less stupid than it was before he cracked the knuckles in my feet.

“Let’s watch a movie or something,” he said.

We moved to the couch. He turned on the TV and sat down right next to me. I could feel the heat of his arm against my arm. I reached for my phone – and grazed his arm – and saw that I missed six calls, all of them from my mom. It lit up right then, right in my hand. She was calling again.

“Hello?” I said. “What’s wrong? Sorry, I just – “

“There’s a storm coming!” she shouted.

“Yeah, I know,” I said. “So did someone die or what? You called me like a thousand times.”

“Matthew, damn it, there’s a storm coming! You just got your license. I don’t want you driving over that bridge with drunks and everything else in a goddamn hurricane.”

“It’s not a hurricane, and there aren’t any drunks out at six. Six in the morning, maybe.”

“I want you to come home right now.”

“What?” I asked.

“Come home.”

“I’ll just wait it out,” I said.

“This is not a request,” she said. “I’m not asking you. I’m telling you.”

“This is nuts,” I said. “This is insane. I should stay here.”

“Because I don’t want you to die in a hurricane on a bridge with drunks everywhere I’m insane? That makes me insane. Okay, I’m okay with that. But get your ass in that car and come home right now,” she said.

“Fine,” I said.

“You’re coming home?”

“I said fine, didn’t I? How many times do I have to say it?”

I hung up.

“I’ve got to go,” I said.

“What?” asked Patrick. “No way. Stay.”

“It’s this storm,” I said. “My mom’s going crazy.”

“So what?” he asked. “Ignore her. We’re watching a movie.”

“I can’t ignore her,” I said. “There’s no ignoring her. You don’t know her.”

“This will blow over. Just stay. Don’t even listen to her.”

“I can’t,” I said, and stood up. “I wish I could but I can’t.”

It was a good day. I could have killed my mom for ending it like that, but I had a really good day. I got my things together pretty fast and went to the door.

“Really?” Patrick asked. “You won’t just stay? Just stay over. We’ll watch this movie.”

“I’ve got to go,” I said. “But thanks for everything today. This was a great birthday.”

I meant it. Nobody ever gave me a whole day before. He was standing too.

“No problem,” he said.

“Alright,” I said, “I’ll see you later.”

I walked out the door and down the steps and maybe five feet down the concrete footpath to the curb where my car was fielding little raindrops before he shouted.

“Wait!” he said.

I turned around. “What?”

I was surprised.

“No kiss?”

He tilted his head down kind of like he was waiting for me to run back up to him and give him one and I thought about everything all at once – I thought about everything in such a way that I couldn’t think of anything in particular, or what to do or to say. It was that bite of pizza he took and the way he was always touching me and talking about sex and the songs he played and when we shotgunned the joint. It was Ashley when she looked at me after I woke Patrick up from his nap at work and came downstairs.

“What?” I asked her.

“What?” she asked me.

“You’re looking at me funny,” I said.

“No I’m not,” she said.

But she definitely was and I said “Whatever.”

The back of my neck was slippery and I was scared and probably wide-eyed or something pathetic like that because I had no idea what to do. Was he joking? He joked about weird things. He was a weird guy. He talked about driving a nail through his hand like a second ago, right? It was maybe four seconds where nothing happened. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi. And then he laughed this sheepish kind of embarrassed laugh and turned around and said he was only kidding and he’d see me later and closed the door. The rain was a little harder and I turned around, and I didn’t walk to my car right away. I fumbled for my keys; my hand was shaking.

I drove very slowly over the bridge. The storm, which was only horrifying and life-threatening for five minutes, was horrifying and life-threatening for the five minutes that it took me to drive home. The sky shattered in lightning blue branches and screamed.

“He wasn’t joking,” I whispered.

I smiled. There was no way that he was joking. He wanted to kiss me. I could have kissed him, right then. I could have kissed Patrick. We could have kissed in his room, too, probably, or on his couch. He was just as scared as I was. That’s all I felt. That’s why this was so confusing. That’s why I never knew. He didn’t want to give anything away until I gave something away, and I didn’t want to give anything away, either. But then I was sure. It was going to happen.

What I didn’t understand was the concept of a moment, nor did I know that mine had passed. My first almost-romance ended with my first almost-kiss. Patrick never talked to me again except in casual passing. There was no more breakfast, or coffee; there were no more crude jokes or gestures. We never shared a blanket after that. We were somehow never alone after that.

I didn’t cry about it. I didn’t talk about it, either. I would have had to have had one of those “hi, friend, I like guys” conversations before I could tell the story, or ask for advice or commiserate or be given ice cream or any of those things that are supposed to happen, which seemed tedious. Also, I mean, I was pretty terrified. It was a pretty terrifying thing, thinking back. But I definitely didn’t cry. It got better, too, as the weeks went on. Pretty soon, everything was normal.

“Is this game rigged?” asked a little girl with a candy-apple mustache and a fanny pack.

I was working at the record stand that overlooked the ocean, listening to music that made me feel superior. I turned it down.

“What?” I asked. “Do you want to play?”

I had quarters in my hand and jingled them, as if to ask if she wanted change so she could spin the wheel.

“Is this game rigged?” she asked again.

“Oh,” I said, “go away.”

“I want to play,” she said.

“Do you really?” I asked.

“No,” she said, and tilted her head to the side and smiled.

She thought she was very clever and adorable. Little kids were at their least adorable when they were trying to be. I turned my music back up and didn’t look at her. She went away, eventually. A really big wave came crashing down on the beach, and I heard some people laugh and yell but didn’t see them. It was pretty nice out, and getting dark. In a few hours there’d be fireworks. I was looking forward to them.

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Michael Solana is an ex-store clerk, ex-boardwalk barker, ex-barista, ex-busboy, ex-expat English teacher. Born and raised on the Jersey Shore, he currently lives in New York City where he writes stories and has somehow still not been fired from his job at Penguin, where he edits non-fiction. He’s generally over-caffeinated, and he winds up on the Simulated Reality Wikipedia page far more often than is probably healthy