When the man points the gun at Traci, she’s a saguaro. Not only in look, but in texture. She seems prickly, like if you touched her it would sting. And if Traci is a saguaro I am a succulent at her feet, small with smooth edges. He tells her to keep her hands up and give him all the money. He’s shaky. She’s not. Well which one is it? Do you want my hands up or do you want the money? I can’t get the money with my hands up. She sneers at his response before he gets the words out. Bitch, just give me the fucking money. Traci hits a button and the register pops open with mechanical violence and a ding. She grabs two fistfuls of crumpled bills and smacks them down on the counter. You happy now, genius? The man looks at me, standing next to Traci behind the register, and I almost shrug. We almost share a moment where I would’ve said, yeah I know, she’s out there, man. But when you’re frozen in fear you don’t shrug and you don’t share a moment with the man who’s seconds away from making you piss your pants. He crams the money in his pockets and runs.
After we finish describing the man to the police, Traci pulls a 40 from the fridge and we walk out. The police know we’re not 21, but they either don’t notice or don’t care. The asphalt is slick from the rain. It’s dark out and the siren lights look like bright alien fruit reflected in puddles.
In between swigs Traci says, fuck that job, I was going to quit anyway, fuck that place, fuck that nasty burnt gasoline smell. I kinda like that smell. And I kinda like that job. I wonder how much I’d still like it if Traci wasn’t there. If I had to clean out the slushee machine without Traci singing into a Twinkie in the background. Then Traci asks, do you wanna go to the lake? I know it’s not really a question.
I drive us past walls of trees and borders of shrubs fortifying the road. They repaved last year so now all the potholes are gone, but I still swerve to avoid them. Traci’s pushing buttons trying to find a station that isn’t static. Can you believe that asshole? She asks after giving up on the radio and turning her attention to the window. The guy with the gun? We’ve seen worse, I say. Remember that one tweaker that kept touching his balls? Traci laughs. I try not to sound desperate, but the question falls out of my mouth and my voice vibrates like a fridge on its last legs: Are you really going to quit? Traci’s still playing with the window. Maybe. You should quit too. We should quit together, that’ll show ‘em. She’s right, but it’s not like I have a choice. Mom can’t pay the bills without my help. And Traci’s even worse off. She’s got brothers. All I say in response is, stop that, you’ll break the window.
When we were kids I was afraid to go in the lake because I thought there’d be leeches in there. Tracey—back then she spelled it with an EY, just like me—held my hand the whole time. She didn’t make fun or try to freak me out. She held my hand and smiled. Our legs and arms worked extra hard below the murky water, churning bubbles to the surface, making up for our entwined limbs. My center was gooey and pliant, like mac and cheese straight from the oven. Back then we both had daddies. I technically still do, but I haven’t seen him in a while.
We’re alone at the lake. I park the car as close to the edge as I can, leaving the headlights on. We throw our clothes in the backseat and Traci, bathed in ghostly glow, runs to the water. I walk over, sidestepping cigarette butts and shattered beer bottles. There’s red lipstick around one of the butts. The shattered glass glints in the sand and I think about the girls who stand outside the club across from the gas station. They shimmer in the dark too. They come in before their shifts to buy gum and cigarettes. They look Traci up and down and tell her she could make good money. They don’t talk to me.
Tracey became Traci with an i right about the time she stopped stuffing her bra. She was filling enough. I asked her why she didn’t like being Tracey with an EY anymore, and she said that things were different, which meant that her name should be different. At the end of her statement, as if for emphasis, one of the spaghetti straps on her black top slid down her shoulder. I was about to reach out to fix it, instead I nodded and pretended to understand what the hell she was talking about. Things didn’t feel different to me.
Traci and I float. The water is so warm we can’t tell where our bodies stop and it begins. When our fingers graze, that mac and cheese heat is in my belly, even though I’m not afraid of leeches anymore. I know there’s other darkness that can pull you under.
Veronica Klash loves living in Las Vegas and writing in her living room. You can read her work in Wigleaf, X-R-A-Y, and Cheap Pop, among others. She is currently in hibernation, working on a short story collection. Find her tweets @veronicaklash.