I had to admit that Kroger's was my favorite place to shop. It offered everything a poor college student could dream of: magazines, toiletries, and most importantly, food. The store had everything I wanted, and I could have all the time I wanted to make a fiscally responsible decision. Gloria never understood why I loved grocery shopping, since he found it about as stimulating as watching bananas ripen, but I didn't mind—it meant I could choose my bread with one less person clearing his throat loudly.
Today was especially hard, since Kroger's was offering a new kind of bread, but I finally got around to choosing one after an employee told me to "pick a goddamn loaf, or get out of my aisle." Had Gloria been there, he would've told her to shut it and demanded me to stay put, but I wasn't feeling particularly antagonistic and scuttled away.
"Oh well," I said cheerfully as I picked up my bags and headed out the store. It was a very nice day, and I thought about walking around the Corner, a small area of boutiques and restaurants. The problem, though, was how to avoid unnecessary attention. How could I parade around without having everyone stare at Gloria or Polly? Barry could slide, I mused, since there were a lot of dogs walking around, but then again, he was wearing a cone around his head and that never goes over well with other people.
I was fishing around my purse for my keys when someone suddenly screamed behind me, "OH MY GOD, LUCI YOU BITCH!"
To say it caught me by surprise was an understatement, and I jumped a good mile in the air. "Hey, Pearl," I said weakly, turning around. The windows were tinted, but there was enough space for Pearl to stick out her small head. She was panting excitedly and, before I could say anything else, her mouth was off and running.
"Whazza, girl? I have not seen you in like, two days. That's like… way too many hours! I have some juicy gossip to tell you about my ex!" Pearl yipped excitedly. Then she stopped and looked at me a little closer. "You look a little pale, girl. Are yous sick? You ain't gonna barf all over Bobby's car, are you? Because trust, he'd cap yo ass if you did that. This car is brand new, and he gets all the bitches and hos with it, so don't be ruining his tires!"
"I won't," I said, smiling. Darn it, she was so charismatic! Why couldn't Gloria see it? "Are you coming over tomorrow?"
"Hell yes, girl. I ain't letting no motherflipping fish tell me what to do," Pearl barked stubbornly. "You can even ask my homeslice to back me up on this. When Ella came over last night, she actually had the nerve to tell me to 'shoo.' Bitch, she's a temporary blow-up doll, and I'm the real deal! I taught that stank ass a lesson all right, by pissing all over her underwear!"
I guffawed. Gloria and I had woken up to her slamming drawers and cursing about "the bratty mutt." It was a good way to cap off the weekend. "So what are you doing now?" I asked, setting down my groceries. I had a few minutes to spare, and it would be nice to catch up with Pearl. "Are you waiting for Bobby to come back?"
She shook her head. "Nah, more like waiting for the Head Bitch to get out."
"Oh? What's she buying, food for you? You're such a fatty."
"Haha, shut up. I have a fast metabolism. But yeah, she's just taking forever to choose her milk, but it's weird because she's all lactose intolerant. I don't know why she even goes near that aisle—oh wait, it's because she was dropped on the head as a baby." Pearl was momentarily incensed, but she brightened immediately. "No worries, though, I got Bobby here to keep me entertained! He's also waiting for the HBIC to get outta Kroger's."
That I had not expected. My eyes flew to the driver's seat, and lo and behold there was Bobby, looking at me really funnily. Then I looked at the passenger seat to see if Ella was there, but there was another guy in the car instead, and he looked absolutely bewildered. For crying out loud, the one time I wanted my roommate to be where I was so she could do some control damage—! Instead of having someone assure Bobby that I was an anti-social dimwit, there was now another person who had seen me talk to an animal. I dimly heard Pearl calling my name, asking me if I was okay, but I was much too entranced by the way Bobby and his friend were suddenly talking. I couldn't catch anything they were saying, but I was struck with several paranoid thoughts. What were they talking about? Did they think I was crazy like a cat lady? Or did they already figure everything out? What if Bobby leaked it to the media or the science department? Would I even have a life anymore?
I felt claustrophobic all of a sudden and turned to my car at the same time Bobby got out of his own. I wasn't going to wait around for him to put me down or, even worse, ask me questions. Questions like why I was talking to his dog in the middle of the parking lot.
"Hey, where you going?" Pearl asked just as I heard Bobby say, "Hey, you". There was no way I was going to stop for him, so I quickly shut the door, started the car, and backed out of there. It was just my luck that I would bump into him within such a short period of time. Didn't he have other places to loiter anyway?
It wasn't until I had made a turn into Lambeth did I realize that I had left my groceries on the top of the car the entire time. I almost banged my head against the window in frustration. Stupid girl! That was the reason why you had gone to Kroger's in the first place! I parked quickly and jumped out of the car, but it was no use; the loaf of bread had long fallen away, along with the rest of the thirty dollar groceries. I shut the door and grumbled, heading up the stairs. Bobby was becoming a cancerous sore to my life.
Despite my renewed vow to follow Gloria's plans verbatim, I couldn't help but decide to make one last change in the plans, and that was to incorporate Pearl into the action. Despite Wednesday's disaster of a first meeting, she had given us insight on the couple's plans. Plus, I was never good at wheedling information out of people. The only logical conclusion was to be honest with Pearl, and judging from her opinion of Ella, it didn't seem too difficult to persuade her to join the brigade. With fifteen minutes before Mrs. Portland was scheduled to arrive, I turned to Gloria, who was floating languidly in his bowl, and dropped the bombshell.
"I'm going to tell Pearl about our plans."
In a second he had snapped to attention, and he gave me a look that spoke volumes about his opinion of my intelligence. "Run that by me again?"
"I said I'm going to get Pearl to help us."
"That's what I thought. The answer is still no."
"You're being unreasonable," I objected, folding my arms. "You know she'll be helpful."
"We already went over this, Luci."
"It wasn't fair, though. You twisted everything around and antagonized Pearl. A lot."
"So what?" he said flippantly. "I don't like her, so I see no need to treat her nicely."
"Do you like anyone?" I muttered, and Gloria shot me a dirty look.
"I'm not even going to dignify that with an answer. But if I remember correctly, she's the one who told us about the picnic at the park. And then you got shit all over your face, didn't you?"
"That's not her fault! It wasn't like she was at the park yelling for the birds to have a go at me. She gave us an opportunity, and we chose to do whatever we wanted with it."
"Same difference. She could've given us a better or more fool-proof situation."
I shook my head, my jaw setting. "Glo, that's just ridiculous. I know you don't like her, and I won't push that on you. But you know as well as I do that she's the closest to him out of all of us, and she's going to be the most resourceful when it comes to spying on their activities. Plus, Pearl might even tell us the couple's progress."
I had everything set in my head. I had thought out the argument carefully, spinning it this way and that to make sure that my position would be infallible. So I was prepared when he leveled me with a challenging stare.
"Hon, Bobby cozies up to you just fine and dandy. He's an asshole, and I don't need his bitch to tell us what's going on between him and Ella. And we all know they have sex until their brains leak out of their ears. As for the couple's progress? It's written all over Ella's face. And hello, I'm a fantastic eavesdropper."
"But Bobby only picks fights with me. I can't get anything useful with that. And by activities, I mean dates and stuff. I already told you that she peed all over Ella's underwear. Come on, you have to admit that was ingenious."
"How classy of her."
"But you'd do the same if you had the chance," I countered. I noted with satisfaction that Gloria didn't say anything. "And not to say you're not invaluable—" I made sure to stress the not, "—but sometimes Ella doesn't always talk in her room."
"Likewise, Bobby doesn't always talk in the house."
"Right. But if both of you listened in, then we'd have a better chance of catching their plans."
Gloria glared at me for a while, and I matched the stare back, eye for eye. We weren't best friends for any reason; I knew how his mind worked, just like how he knew mine. I might not have been as quick on my feet as he was, but if I thought long enough—which I did in this case—I could catch him in a rare moment.
Finally, he spoke again. "You're really that desperate to kick Bobby out, aren't you?"
"You already know the answer to that."
"Even if it means adding another bitch to the team?"
"Yes. But she's a nice 'bitch.'"
"Try again," Gloria said, leaning back against his castle throne and looking at me rather imperiously. "Why should I put up with some hyper dog's antics? It means jack if you think she's nice. Maybe she would make things easier, but you know very well that I get what I want, and if I want Bobby out, then I have the means to do it, with or without Pearl. And honey, time is not a factor because I will wage this war until I win. Now with this in mind, why does Pearl deserves a chance?"
Oh, he was good. I couldn't deny that Gloria was determined and, more importantly, stubborn. We could probably scrape by, but why scrape when you could pass with flying colors? I faltered, trying to organize my thoughts, and then I gave him my reason.
"Bobby keeps catching me when I talk to you guys." My voice dropped a decibel. "I'm so good at hiding it from everyone else, so I don't know why it's just him. All he has to do is catch me a few more times, and he'll have connected the dots. I don't want that. Mom and dad don't even know, and I especially don't want someone like him to find out."
Some might consider it a low blow, but desperate times call for desperate measures. It was also true, as Bobby seemed more inclined to blackmail or sell me out if he ever caught wind of this. It was a strong vantage, and I smiled widely when Glory muttered, "Fine, she can help. But she has to follow my express orders. Nobody changes anything after this, okay?"
I jumped up from my seat and wrapped his bowl in a hug. "Thank you thank you thank you. You don't regret it, I promise! Two heads are better than one, after all."
"Whatever," Gloria huffed. He was clearly unhappy, but I knew he would get over it in time. It would help if he had the supposedly short attention span, but I didn't worry too much because at the moment, the bell rang.
"Coming!" I cheered, skipping out of the room and ignoring my goldfish's muttering.
The waiters who passed by my table did a double take at my booth, and I shrunk against my seat, trying to ignore the unwanted attention.
"I think she's embarrassed of you, Glo," Barry whispered, propping his conical head atop the table. "You don't really blend well in this place, do you?"
Gloria looked at him incredulously. "And you think you do? You're wearing a fricking cone!"
"I get it off in two days!" Barry said heatedly, but his face was flushed nonetheless. " It's because I have an infection."
"Yeah, you kept biting your balls, right?"
I sighed as the two animals quibbled beside me and focused on the restaurant entrance instead. I had been right; Pearl had exploded with ecstasy after I had set her on my bed and explained everything.
"Hell yeah!" she had cheered, jumping up and down excitedly. "It's about time we ruin your bitchass roommate. Whose idea was this?"
I had pointed in Gloria's direction, and Pearl had looked very impressed. "Duh! I shouldn't have even asked. You're like, my freaking idol now."
He had regarded her coolly. "And you're like, still annoying."
I had shot him a warning look, but Pearl only scoffed. "Whatevs, you just can't handle me. What, you scared that someone out there finally isn't scared of you? Get off your high horse."
"Get the hell out of my apartment."
And the two had dissolved into a heated argument about something inane. Somehow, I had gotten the two to break it off, and after much reminding about what was really important, they had both agreed to maintain civility. Polly had loved the idea, and Barry nearly fainted when he padded into the room and caught the sight of Pearl's hind legs.
This was wonderful because now I had Pearl, Bobby's supposed confidante, on my side. And just to prove how resourceful she was, Pearl had announced that Bobby and Ella had been planning to go eat at Viggie's on Thursday. Gloria had seemed miffed by her speed and drawn up a plan on the spot. I knew because he usually divulged bits of the plan to me beforehand. In the end, what mattered was that Gloria had finally agreed to let Pearl help, and I was so grateful for that.
I was taking in the restaurant's Italian glory, complete with grape vines and fresco-styled walls, when a waiter stopped in front of my table. "Are you ready to order, ma'am?" he asked politely, and I turned around.
"Um, yes I think so," I said distractedly as Barry started pointing to the steak selections. Slabs of cows made me sick, but it was nothing I could handle. Seafood, on the other hand, was an entirely different matter. All that breaking and cracking of the spines had scarred me as a child, and I couldn't even think about crab soup without my stomach churning violently.
"Hey, you're Luci, aren't you?" the waiter said, and I looked up in surprise. It quickly morphed into horror as I realized it was Bobby's friend, the one who had been sitting with him at Kroger's, and my stomach plummeted far, far into the ground. Beside me, Gloria and Barry had stopped squabbling and were also looking at him in confusion. Gloria was the first to snap out of it, and he did so by snapping at me.
"Who the hell is he?"
I couldn't say anything except stare at the waiter, who was all too oblivious of Gloria's interrogation. Barry tried to hide from the situation by burying his head against the booth, and I wished I could do the same.
"You were that girl from the other day, right?"
"I, uh," I stammered before looking away and burying my face into the menu. Of all the places, he had to work here! I looked at Gloria, who only gave me a pointed look, and swallowed nervously.
"Yeah, I was the one talking to Pearl," I mumbled, and Gloria's eyes nearly fell out of his head.
"WHAT THE FUCK," he roared. At the same time, the waiter, whose nametag read Mark, laughed brightly.
"Yeah, it was something," he said. "We were freaked out when you approached the car and started having a conversation with her."
"I'm always careful about my secret," Gloria mocked, swimming furiously in little circles. "You're joking, right? Please tell me he's joking, Luci, because that is the dumbest thing you could ever do. You seriously expect me to sit here and put up with Pearl when you can't even keep your trap shut? No wonder Bobby always catches you!"
I cleared my throat before smiling weakly at Mark. He looked nice enough with dark hair and eyes and a warm smile, but as Gloria had said earlier, "The suit has got to go." I couldn't gauge how horribly mismatched the dress code was, but it was enough for Gloria to curl his lips in disgust.
"I'm sorry about that," I said, sending a sidelong glance at the goldfish. "I, uh, like talking a lot."
"This is so pathetic," Gloria muttered.
"It's hard for her to work in social situations," Barry said helpfully. The reply was a snort.
"Yeah, well, it might not be so hard if she didn't try to put herself in these stupid little dilemmas."
"Are you going to order?" Mark asked, and I looked away from them. I was so distracted that I hadn't even caught whatever comment he had made to mine.
My socializing was laughable, but I squeaked through the order, feeling relief settle around my stomach when Mark took the menu and finally walked off. Viggie's must have been adamant about customer service, because he stood there patiently while I stumbled and pointed at the entrees. It was nice of him to not roll his eyes or tell me off, but I still hated eating out anyway. Ordering was far too stressful.
Gloria was still pissed, and his face showed it. Barry sat in the middle observing his paws and sent me apologetic glances every now and then. I knew it was my fault I had been caught that time, but before I could apologize, Bobby and Ella came through the doorway. They passed by me without a second glance, though it was because I had chosen a well-tucked booth in the corner, and sat down at a distant table. Wonderful.
"Game time," Barry said, hopping off the seat and running to the potted plant where Pearl was. Gloria finally looked at me, his expression closed.
"You're so lucky we're not at home."
I nodded, watching as Bobby played with the candle on the table, nipping at the flames with his thumb. Not that I wanted to liken myself to him, but I loved to do that when my mom wasn't watching. He was dressed in slacks and a white dress shirt, which went reasonable well together. It wasn't like Ella was an eyesore, either, but she had on a body-hugging dress and that was something I could live without seeing.
I watched the two interact, not because I was morbidly nosy, but because I had a sudden urge to know. I wanted to know what it was like to have a boyfriend, to have someone who was more than a boy and a friend. What would it be like to go on dates, and what would it be like when we were alone? It was a good opportunity, so I took it, watching how Ella molded herself against Bobby as she stroked his blond hair and whispered into his ear. I watched him respond as his hand dipped lower, smirking when she squealed and playfully smacked his hand. But it wasn't long before Ella was lovingly pressed to his side once more, touching his hair and gazing up at him with complete and utter adoration.
"There goes my nonexistent lunch," Gloria muttered. I looked down to find him staring at me suspiciously. "Boyfriends are nothing but trouble, honey. Don't even think about it."
I scratched my neck nervously. "What are you trying to say? You know I can't stand him."
"No duh. He almost killed me, that little bitch. But I'm saying in general, don't be getting any ideas of a boyfriend, or else you'll end up like Ella, all blind-sighted and with no self-respect." He made a noise of disgust. "Look at them, PDA-ing like it's their apartment. No shame in these kids nowadays, I tell you."
I shrugged, watching as several cockroaches skittered stealthily across the floor. "Maybe you need a girlfriend, Glo."
"They ain't nothing but bitches and hos."
"You're just bitter about Dora."
"If your ex was twice your size and tried to digest you, I'm sure you'd be a little bitter, too. Enrique, you're in the wrong position!" Gloria snapped.
"Eyy, tell your perra that! She directed me here!" the cockroach retorted. He muttered something in Spanish before crawling away.
"Pearl is an idiot."
"It's just one mistake, so don't judge her for it," I chastised. "And you know how sorry I am about Dora. I thought you were lonely and needed a friend."
"Good job on assuming. You just made an ass out of you and me."
"Ha ha, like I haven't heard of that one." I moved my foot as a mama herded her children away. "But really, Glo, maybe another fish isn't too bad. You might even like it."
He didn't say anything for a while, and we watched as families and families of cockroaches crept into the dark crevices. It was a good thing that Viggie's liked a romantic atmosphere; it meant very little lighting and a lot of tablecloths. It wasn't very crowded today, thank goodness, and the extra waiters were too busy lounging around, flipping through newspapers, or picking their nails. I wondered if Bobby and Ella had somehow known about the plan and was purposefully making it this easy.
"I'm telling you, Luci," Gloria said suddenly, "boyfriends are trouble. When you like someone, you let him get under your skin, and then he'll know about this."
"I'm not going to tell anyone."
"You say that now."
"You think I'm going to tell my secret to the first person who shows an interest in me? That's kind of a low opinion there," I added sarcastically. It was meant to mask the slight hurt.
Gloria ignored my wounded feelings and continued to talk. "If you don't want trouble, don't try to find it. I'm just warning you right now. All your life you've kept everything a secret, even from your family, so don't go blabbing it to the first person you get twinkle-toed for."
I turned around in my seat to look at him, but Gloria had already yelled for Pearl, who in turn barked out loud. A few waiters looked in my direction, looking for Barry the Conehead, but whatever suspicion they had was erased as a black wave of cockroaches scuttled from underneath the table, out of the plants, everywhere, their voices screeching and disjointed like some anarchic army. It scared the beejesus out of the waiters, chefs, and most importantly, Bobby and Ella. There were screams from the kitchen, and waiters making a run for the back door. A few valiantly tried to stave off Enrique and his family, but for every cockroach they flattened, three more took its place.
"Andale, andale!" Enrique roared among the chattering cockroaches, and I watched gleefully, forgetting about Gloria's caveat for a moment, as Ella drew her legs onto the chair, her wails echoing throughout the restaurant. Bobby went about it a little manlier, as he looked down in disgust at the cockroaches and attempted to make his way towards the exit.
I couldn't help but watch him as he walked on the tips of his shoes, trying to find a free spot on the floor. It was useless because Enrique was one popular man, and with every step, Bobby had to balance precariously on one foot for a long moment before finding another spot. I laughed out loud when he nearly fell on his face. Bobby caught the door handle easily and looked up, his blue eyes connecting with mine, and I stopped laughing, wishing I hadn't guffawed so loudly.
His eyes slanted in confusion as he took in the sight of me sitting calmly among the chaos, and I realized that Gloria's fishbowl was at the end of the table. He hadn't noticed Bobby yet, and as such he was still barking orders into the sea of cockroaches. "Left! Go left and take down the boy, dammit!"
It was a shame Gloria hadn't noticed because he always had the best damage control, because I was now rooted in my spot and locked in a staring contest with Bobby. I could see the cogs beginning to creak in his head, and I imagined him fitting another piece into the puzzle. He opened his mouth, his eyes still trained on me, but Ella chose that moment to barrel into him, her scream piercing the air.
"Get out, get out!" she cried, shoving him out of the door, and within moments, I was alone in the restaurant.
an: i can totally explain the unintended hiatus. it involved sororities and school, but that's not important. there should be a big, fat heart here instead of this dinky, little an. THANK YOU to all who reviewed. i can't even count how much flak Bobby got in all of them. I'M LOVING IT. here's to hoping the next chapter goes a little faster!