On the eve of my 14th birthday, my mom was set on taking us to Dave and Busters. It was three years after dad and mom got divorced, and mom was more mentally unstable than ever. It didn’t help that her current boyfriend of two years was still here.
I looked around in my hand-knitted bag and found some game tokens to play Pac Man and Dance Dance Revolution, where Will would always beat me. I held them in my hand, fisted safely in between my palm. In the other was my copy of Clockwork Angel, which I was reading for the fourth time.
Dad dropped us off after a two-hour drive at mom’s trailer, and didn’t go inside. He just waved out the window and wished me a happy birthday, putting the car into reverse, red lights beaming over the charred ground.
Once he left, Will, Chris and I went inside to be greeted by a greaser.
In my 6th grade class, we read the Outsiders, and all I could think of were the greasers as I eyed this man – he was wearing a leather jacket with his dark hair slicked back as if he had walked up to a fryer and dipped his head inside. He was thin, short, and wearing swim shoes that were worn on the bottom.
Will walked up to mom, arms crossed, and said “Who is this?”
She laughed and held Josh to her chest. Her blonde hair was pinned up and she was wearing an oversized floral shirt, which was stained with milk on the front.
The man walked up to Will, and says “Boy, I’m taking you to Dave and Busters for your sister’s birthday, you should be happy!” He then gestured to my mom to come to him, and she walked over slowly, as her shoes went clunk, clunk on the tile. She then slowly raised her hand to swiftly smack him across the face.
“Don’t talk to my son that way!” said my mom, twisting herself away from him.
I stood there frozen, unable to move. I could feel the urge to crack open my book, but couldn’t take my eyes away from the greaser man’s flushed cheek.
The greaser man walked up to the center table and slammed his hand down. I jumped, dropping the book onto the floor, bookmark scattered far out of reach.
Mom said then, “Get OUT of my house!” And pushed him towards the door. “GET OUT!”
He put his hands up, and said “Baby, I’m sorry – I won’t do it again. Let’s go to Dave and Busters for Elizabeth.” He walked closer to me and said, “Don’t you want that sweetie?”
I shook my head back and forth so many times I felt like it would snap off my shoulders.
Will walked in front of me, arms crossed. “Don’t touch her.”
“I don’t have a car, Becky,” said the greaser man. “I can’t go anywhere.”
“Get in the car,” she said. We all stood there. “Get in my car! Everyone!”
We all piled out onto the porch and I held onto Michael’s hand, my book in the other. My coins were clinking in my pocket, and its ring shot through my ears.
Once everyone was strapped in, we drove with the greaser man in the shotgun seat. I could feel every mile go as I turned the page. Mom was yelling. Josh was crying. I shifted in the back, listening to the tokens jingle in my pocket, reading the words on the page over and over.
Then, the movement stopped. The light was red, and I looked out the window. There was a prison nearby, cops sitting on the corner. Mom unlocked the door, saying, “Get out.”
He snapped his head towards her, and put his hand over hers on the gear shifter.
She snatched her hand away, repeating “Get. Out.” She was that scary calm – she found a balance in her anger that day.
“You know what, Becky?” he said, hand on the handle. “You’re insane. Absolutely crazy. No wonder no man can love you.” Then he spat on her hand, turning towards the window.
Slowly, he opened the door, putting one foot out, and then the next. He closed the door, and mom quickly locked it. Josh had his bottle. Chris held his DS. Michael was asleep. Will and I exchanged looks before eyeing out the window at the greaser man. The light turned green, and we left him standing near a telephone pole with a HELP WANTED sign for a local restaurant, staples framing around its edges.
After I flipped some more pages, I looked up at mom in the rearview mirror. Her eyes were blank, almost unseeing as she looked down the road.
“So,” I said quietly. “Does this mean no Dave and Busters?”
Her hand clutches the steering wheel, fingers turning white.
“No, Elizabeth.” She said. “No Dave and Busters.”