5)Stranger Things

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"Mad Hatter" by Melanie Martinez
****

I couldn't breathe. I couldn't move. Fear seemed to be rooting me to the spot in the hallway outside of the kitchen. There weren't any bonfires on the beach with the exception of the one I saw last night. But that could only mean...
That was the one with the pervy men and their girlfriends. Were they the ones dead? I ignored the continued murmurs of my grandmother and the chief. Running over to the front door I whipped it open and sprint out onto the porch. I tried not to fall in my wedge sandals as I teetered from foot to foot. I saw the polices quad cars at least two miles or so down the lakefront. Their cars were looking similar to tiny dots given how far away they were. I thought I could make out officers walking search dogs. How?? Why? I had just been there with all of those poor people the night before...
Right as I was about to head back inside the house a grab of my shoulder startled me enough to yelp. Once I spotted who it was that touched me a scowl crosses my face. "What the hell?" I asked Sam the moment I saw him. "You don't just creep up on someone!"
"I said your name three times, Gabrador," Sam snorted, ruffling the curly hair I had worked so very hard to train into submission. I scowled. Does he have no respect that it took me at least a half hour to tame my wild mane? I smoothed out my pony tail once more, careful to avoid a bubble on my head. My brother cracked a smile as he watched me. "You ready? You were saying how you wanted to go to the DMV this week."
Was this a moment of truth? I cocked my head to watch down the beach while considering my options. Perhaps not. What would be the point in telling anyone about the night before? A strong part of me felt the very idea that it was the same men I was around last night who were killed was preposterous. What were really the odds that the one bonfire I saw last night was the one where the people were killed? They weren't too likely when I really gave it thought. The lake went up and down the coast of Wisconsin for miles. It even went down to Illinois. Nowadays everyone was camping or spending the nights outdoors now that summer was near.
The men I saw were also with a group of women. It wasn't as though a group of wannabe models murdered men. That thought was comical. Even still, I watched the small dots that were the multiple squad cars down the long length of the beach. Something about all of this seemed too much to be coincidental. As I was following Sam to the car I wrestled with the guilt of not revealing what I saw last night.
***
The car ride with my brother was spent in near silence. The tension was thick enough to cut with a knife. I figured Sam was probably more than a little ticked off that I ran away without saying where I was going. Still, I was sixteen. I was practically an adult who could make my own decisions regarding life; I didn't owe him answers, especially not after his trick with our mother's engagement ring. Sam must have felt the same awkwardness as I did. We both exchanged the occasional glance but never said a word.
Hunter Trails DMV was a surprisingly large place after we pulled into the parking lot. On the internet, it hadn't looked so big. Looking into the open glass doors to the building there were at least two dozen people waiting in line. There was a light feeling of dread filling my chest as I trudged up the steps of the building. I had failed my last drivers exam in North Carolina. My instructor had been a bitter old man who yelled at random intervals. I had done a perfect job up until the last moment the man had yelled we were approaching a stop light. Out of fear for his random yell I went over a curb. The old man failed me after that. Luckily for me all I had to do to take the test here in Wisconsin was get myself a photo ID. That took less than a half hour. After that I was considered a Wisconsinite even after only living here less than forty-eight hours. As wacky as that was, I wasn't complaining. Driving brought me one step closer to adulthood. It also made me not have to deal with Sam playing chauffer for me anymore.
"It's okay to be nervous," said Sam after we got my ticket number. He had obviously noticed my nervous tick of fiddling my hands together. That was always my tell-tale sign when nervousness struck.
"I'm not nervous," I say, my words a lie. Maybe it was a half lie. I was nervous but not about my drivers test. After the argument yesterday, it seemed the two of us were walking on eggshells. Neither of us seemed to know what to say to the other to make things right. It wasn't going to be me offering an olive branch. I wasn't stellar with my people skills and apologizing wasn't one of my strong suits. Sam looked dejected as we made our way to a pair of seats in the sea of people who all had to be at the DMV today. "I'm sorry," my brother says, looking as guilty as he sounded.
"For what?" I answer sardonically. On the inside I was elated he was big enough to make the first move when I wasn't.
His guilt didn't evaporate. "For breaking my promise, for not telling you about wanting to marry Kelly, for what I said. For all of it."
I shuffled my sandaled feet on the ugly carpeted floor below me. Sam sounded heartfelt like he really meant his apology. Still, I disliked showing emotions. Other than looks that much I inherited from our dad. He didn't show emotion either. I clenched my jaw. "I'm not going to apologize to you if that's what you're after."
Sam snorted. "I expect nothing from my vicious little viper of a sister." We cracked a smile at the same time. His comment wasn't critical. He was making light of the rift between us yesterday. When I looked at him I saw no residue of anger or resent. This was why Sam was my best friend. He loved me despite of my attitude.
"You should have told me." My words sounded pouting.
"Yeah. I was wrong not to," he agreed.
"Apology sort of excepted," I mutter. "You owe me though." This last part was a joke, one that caused him to snort.
"I do, huh?" he laughed. "Well, how about a pet cat? That one seems to like you."
Perplexed as what he could mean, I transfer my gaze to where Sam was nodding his head behind me. The windows inside the DMV were large and went from ceiling to floor. That showed there was a cat sitting on the outside looking in through the window. A mangy black one was watching us. Its large yellow eyes were staring intently at our direction. It's spotty black and grey fur was matted and unwashed, sand and dirt seemingly attached to the ugly little beast. "Ew," I say, my nose wrinkling. It was no secret I wasn't a cat person. It was only partially because my uncle's cat attacked me for pulling its tail when I was six. The other reason was that I disliked how you always seemed to have to beg a cat for its affections. Dogs were more lovable in my opinion. They wanted to be around you while cats seemed to despise you unless you were to offer them something. The black cat in the window raised its little mouth in a hiss. It was almost as if it knew I found it repulsive.
"It's funny, I thought I saw an identical cat like that outside the house this morning," said Sam. We both watched the ugly little beast for a few moments before it soon scampered away. I snorted but said nothing. Little did my brother know black cats were the least strange thing I've seen since coming to Kenosha.
***
I passed my drivers test. I suppose it was only a matter of time; someone could only read and re-read a drivers' manual along with practice driving so many times before they passed it. For the two weeks it would take for my license to officially arrive in the mail, I still had to use my beginners permit. While I was gone and Sam was waiting, he had run into an old friend he had met during one of his visits to Kenosha a few years ago. They remained friends on social media. His name was Tanner and a he had a last name I could care less about remembering. The two had gotten to talking and catching up on old times. But once Tanner started talking about running his father's coffee shop downtown, he immediately caught my attention. From the way he spoke it sounded like his father's place was the closest coffee place to my grandparent's house. As soon as Tanner started talking about needing to hire new employees for the summer, I immediately interrupted him. "I'm looking for a job," I suddenly say with a mega-wat smile.
It didn't seem Sam and his old friend had known I existed prior to my speaking. Both suddenly turned to look at me. Tanner was shorter than Sam by a few inches. He was nothing but scrawny with a mop of flaming red hair. Tanner looked at me with what appeared to be interest while Sam surprise. "You're looking for a job?" My brother looked as stunned as he sounded.

"I am," I smiled confidently at Tanner. Really, I could care less about working. Sam knew that about me better than anyone. I had more than enough money from my father's hefty allowance that I didn't need a crappy coffee job that probably paid less than minimum wage. Ever since grandma Diane had started talking incessantly about outdoor activities involving gardening or cleaning up the house, I knew I needed to come up with a plan to get out of it. Making coffee as a summer job sounded a lot more appealing than playing around in the dirt or a cob-web filled house.
To my good fortune Tanner seemed to be on board with my idea even though he really didn't know me.

"Sure! You're Gabi, right?" he said, sounding as if he knew my name already but wanted to play it cool as if he didn't.

Sam raised an eyebrow while I smiled brighter. "Yeah, it's nice to officially meet you, Tanner," I answer sweetly, moving forward to shake his outstretched hand. "I'm very sincere when I say I would love a job. Is there an application online I could fill out?"

"Actually there isn't," confessed a sheepish Tanner. "We're a fairly small place in comparison to Starbucks or local donut joints." I must have looked a tad dejected for he spoke faster. "I mean since I'm good friends with Sam I can pretty much vouch you'd make a great employee. You could meet my dad tomorrow and I'd bet he'd have you start this week!"

I could tell Tanner found me attractive. Even with my 'regal' looks I knew I was pretty. I had perfectly aligned white teeth, a flawless completion, and a gift for applying makeup. I've always been able to make myself more appealing than I actually am. Sometimes this works to my advantage. Other times, it made fellow teenage girls hate me. Sam could obviously tell Tanner was interested in me for he resisted snorting over his friend nearly tripping over himself. I kept my smile. "That sounds great! Let me give you my phone number."

After his exuberant promise to call me tomorrow Sam didn't say anything during the drive back. When he finally spoke he seemed about to laugh. "I don't know what I'm more surprised by. The fact that you know how to play guys or that you want a job."

"I guess I can manipulate people as well as you know how to lie. Isn't that funny?" I immediately regretted my hostile words as Sam winced. I sighed as I looked out the window. "I just don't want to sit in the house all summer, okay?"

Sam sighed. "Fair enough."

Things were still awkward after our recent fight. Usually Sam was difficult to keep quiet. As we drove the silence was palpable. I purposely didn't try to mend the silence. A strong part of me was still deeply aggravated he kept such a large secret. I had always thought we were too close to ever allow a potential love interest to get between us.
My sour thoughts had me stewing for most of the car ride. It was only once we were driving down the highway back to Kenosha did I find something to make comment of. I saw the man from the trolley the other night. My eyes did a double take. He was even more gorgeous than my one time of seeing him in the dim light of the trolley. His wavy brown locks were spiked up. He was walking shirtless and barefoot. His skin was sparkling as if he had just been swimming. The only bit of clothing that covered him was an odd silver and sea-green pants that looked strangely like armor. The guy who looked too gorgeous for words was just walking down the street. I stared out my window to the point my nose was near pressed against the glass to look at him. He was walking along the edge of the highway as if oblivious to cars passing him at blazing fast speeds. The guy didn't seem to care he could be hit and killed at any given moment. But that wasn't the bizarre part of seeing him again. On the man's face was a very murderous look. In his hands was a long, silver stick that looked like a big fork. Gems the size of a horses eyeball decorated the top in pretty decorative patterns. I finally stopped gawking long enough to form a sentence. "That's something you don't see every day," I remark as Sam pulled off the road and towards our exit.

"What?"

I rolled my eyes dramatically. "Nobody likes a smart ass." I watched how my brothers eyes furrowed as he looked on at the highway ahead of him.
"I'm driving Gabi. I'm not exactly paying attention to random things out your window."

He said this in a voice that sounded as though I was ignoring the obvious. I raised an eyebrow. "You're really going to say you didn't see the guy walking the highway? Come on. He looked like he was pulled from the set of The Little Mermaid."

Now I caught my brother's full attention. As we pulled up to a stop light Sam turned to look at me. "What the heck are you talking about?"

"Duh. Guy walking the highway dressed in a costume." It wasn't as though the young man was easy to miss. Not only was no one else walking the long stretch of highway but no could miss the giant fork in his hand as he marched on.
Sam peered through our back windshield as we pulled up to a stop light. His eyes squinted as his brows furrowed once more. "I never saw anyone."

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