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Carpenter 1

Nothing to Lose
Ashley Carpenter He pulled into the WaWa and backed his black Jeep Wrangler up to the pump. He lifted his Oakley sunglasses onto the top of his head and looked up at the cloudy February sky. He was relieved to be back in Virginia, even if most of the elements of his life were currently unresolved. He and Tara had been off for a few months. It all started when she cheated and only intensified after he dropped out of the engineering program at UCF, just a few weeks before the Dean could announce that he failed. He knew that he should have never taken her back after she was with that guy from Colonial Beach, but they both had higher expectations for one another than either one of them could have lived up to. Some part of him thought that one day she might be able to fill the shoes he had crafted for her. Florida had been the land of delusion. It never snowed and subsequently everyone thought that they were on vacation. That must have been why he took her back after she hurt him so badly and it could be the only explanation for his academic failure. Well, delusion and too much tequila. When she told him to come over that evening, he had the thought that this might be the moment they could make amends. Well, they would either fix whatever it was that was causing a rift between them, or they would break up. All he knew was that he would need another pack of Marlboro menthols. His sentimental, wandering thoughts were quickly interrupted. Yeah, thats right none of you will take me home. You all are so busy, so fucking busy. He turned back towards the pump. He didnt have time for this. You all act like such good people, but youre all a bunch of assholes. He went inside to pay and get another pack. The word, asshole struck an especially strong cord with him. He had been called that word multiple times earlier that day by Tara during yet another argument. After she had cheated, his moral compass wasnt what it had once been.

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She had found out that before he left Florida, he had gone to a party and nearly hooked up with a girl he had a few classes with. As the cashier grabbed his cigarettes, he thought of his conversation with Tara from earlier that afternoon: Youre just trying to get back at me, she said, as though it was a sudden epiphany. I just figured if we should end things, we should end em right, with both of us getting hurt, he yelled back. I told you I was sorry and both of us agreed to fix this, why are you so quick to end it? At the time, he couldnt respond. He liked to be the ender of things. If he was the one calling it quits, he was less vulnerable. He was able to be the alpha dog and could walk away with some sort of confidence. It never really mattered that he quit things seconds before they ended. He still had the upper hand. She told him that he should come over so that they could talk in person and that was exactly where he was headed now with his extra pack of cigarettes. I should probably add on a lighter, too. Mines getting a little low, he said to the cashier. On his way out, he couldnt help but stare. All of the yelling was coming from a girl, who couldnt have been older than 17. What are you looking at?, she asked. Youre just like everyone else. All of you are too fucking busy. Busy for what? She explained her tragic tale. Her boyfriend had left her there and she was just trying to get home, but nobody would give her a ride. All she needed was a lift into Fredericksburg, it was only 30 minutes away. But everyone thinks theyre too damn good to help someone out, Her voice rose theatrically. She wanted to be sure that her soliloquy could be heard all throughout the parking lot.

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You know whatyou better start eating crow, he said, lowering his sunglasses over his eyes, get in, I want to prove to you that not everyone is an asshole. In that moment, he didnt think of Tara or that he had been referred to as an asshole several times earlier that day. He decided to imbibe on his impulsivity. He got into the drivers seat, cleared a few empty wrappers off of the passengers seat and through his opened window yelled out, Arent you coming? She shrugged her shoulders, bit her lip, then got in. So where am I taking you? he asked. To Fredericksburg. Its just.. Right up Route 3. I know, its out of my way, but Ill do it. What are you doing up there? A buddy of mine is meeting me. He nodded. She pulled a CD of some British, rap-ska band from the 90s out from her olive green messenger bag, which was covered with a myriad of buttons covering topics from bands to politics to Rastafarian philosophies. Lets listen to this she said, removing his Led Zeppelin CD and replacing it with her own before he could respond. She took a cigarette out of his fresh pack and lit it with a lighter she pulled from her shoe. The music thumped, and then screeched in unison with his tires as they peeled out of the gas station parking lot. He felt his adrenaline rise with the speedometer. He forced thoughts about the rate of combustion of rubber out of his mind. He didnt need to become an engineer. He could live, right in this very moment and have just as much success. They sat in silence for a few miles. As she flicked the ash, the wind blew most of the white powder back into the car. In fact, the backseat was covered in a thin coat of white ash, the residual effects of his smoking addiction. Across the seat lay a spread of belongings that he salvaged from his off-campus Florida apartment: two cans of chickpeas, a long board, several

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empty packs of cigarettes, a sketch pad, and a book by Suze Orman on investing in retirement plans. She looked around the car, as if she were casing the joint. The book caught her eye. What the hell are you planning on retiring for? Were young, she said, taking another deep drag on one of his cigarettes. He shrugged. Then, they awkwardly shared their favorite bands. Conversation between them seemed more forced than the silence. In saying nothing, it was as though they were able to share in a silent conversation; one that revolved around ambiguity and taking risks. As they were approaching Fredericksburg, he turned and asked, Okay, so where are we going? Wheres this persons house? He mentally budgeted his time and realized that he could make it to Taras in 30 minutes from here. Just drop me at that Sonoco over there. Are you kidding me? I drove twenty minutes out of my way and you want me to leave you at a gas station? Think again. Well, its just outside of the city. Its fine. Weve already come this far. She directed him to get on I-95. South I think. Were going to Dumfries. After another 20 miles, they realized that Dumfries was to the North. He made an abrupt U-turn near a sign marked, Authorized Vehicles Only. He was already over an hour late to meet Tara and figured that one more risk wouldnt make much of a difference. He would live in the moment, instead of driving to find the next legal turn-around. They were about ten miles away from their exit when he heard an audible stomach growl. Want something to eat? he asked. I dont have any money.

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Its on me. They pulled into a Taco Bell. He could already taste the imitation meat wrapped up in a soft shell taco. He suggested that they eat inside. He didnt want the day to end and he knew that they only had a few miles left together. It was going on 9:00 pm. Hed never make it back to Taras before she went to bed, she had to work early. He wasnt sure if he wanted to. He hadnt felt this liberated in months, maybe years. Lets play a game, she said. Lets see how much we can take from this store without them noticing. She instinctively reached for a bottle of hot sauce and discretely placed it into the pocket of her sweatshirt. Game on, he replied, looking around at the salt packets and napkin dispensers. When they refilled their drinks, each of them took generous helpings of condiments and paper products. He wondered how he would explain the stack of 20 plastic lids to someone later, but then realized that trying to explain any of this later would be futile. Her cargo pants were bulging. His thin, Florida jacket which barely kept out the cool, Northern breeze, was full of everything from hot sauce, to ketchup, to a knob from the cabinet door beneath the Coke machine. Follow me, he said with a mischievous grin, I have an idea. She followed him back into the bathroom, her face eager to discover what he wanted to initiate. Put this toilet paper in your purse, he said. And, do you have any lipstick? She stuffed four rolls of toilet paper into her bag. She had to readjust the bottle of tequila, collection of CDs and a wide array of toiletries in order to make it all fit. While she was rearranging, she pulled out a tube of plum-almost-black lipstick. Perfect! he said. He opened the tube and began drawing geometric designs on the mirror. She pulled it out of his hand, nudged him out of the way and began writing profanities on the wall and the

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bathroom door. The more vulgar the phrases, the more excited she would become. Her hazel eyes grew larger as she bit the inside of her lip, causing her lip ring to raise. As she reached up above the mirror, her shirt raised and he noticed the tribal tattoo on her lower back. Nice tat, he said. She turned around and smiled, pleased that he noticed her. Lets get out of here, he said. But Im not done yet. I have an even better idea. They left quietly, wondering how long it would take the employees to find their artwork. She walked over to the Jeep. Not so fast, he said. Hand me your bag. She tossed it to him and he pulled out one of the rolls of toilet paper. He started at the back of the store, near a tree and threw the roll up into the branches. It wrapped itself along the top of the birch tree, replacing the potential spring blooms with a bright, white paper. As the roll cascaded down to the trunk of the tree, the wind caught it and wrapped the paper around a nearby rhododendron bush. Wanna try? he asked. She was more than eager to join him. Within two minutes they were down to their last roll. The five trees surrounding the store were covered and toilet paper blanketed the high peaks of the roof at the back of the store. One strand dangled over the T on the neon sign. You finish the job, he said, as he threw her the last roll. Just then, one of the employees walked out the back door holding two bags of garbage and then yelled to someone inside. Shit, get in! he yelled, as he jumped in the drivers seat. He leaned over and opened her door. Within seconds, they were screeching out of the parking lot. A few miles down the road, he

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pulled into a Food Lion parking lot. They looked at each other and started laughing. He took out a cigarette, lit it, then rolled down his window and took a long drag. She grabbed the pack from his hand and helped herself. Then, she pulled out her bottle of tequila and took a very liberal sip. It had started raining and the rhythmic sound of the raindrops tapping on the rag top provided the perfect soundtrack. He turned to look at her- cigarette in one hand, the cherry glowing as she took a drag, bottle of tequila in the other. Her over processed hair, mostly black, with bleach-blonde roots and blue tips, just barely covered the gages in her ears. He noticed another tattoo on her neck; it was something in cursive. He started to move her hair behind her ear so he could see what it said. Just as he reached his hand over to touch her she coiled back like a snake, pressing her body up against the door. What the hell are you doing? she asked. Whats wrong? I just wanted to see your tattoo, he said. OhI thought... She nodded and then placed her hand on his thigh and leaned her face into the side of his palm. Just then, they saw flashing lights. The rain drops filled with shades of neon blue as they exploded across the windshield. She was still holding the bottle of tequila. He knew that she couldnt have been twenty one, but he never wanted to ask. The light was now throbbing, like a pain at the front of his forehead. He felt his heart beat to the rhythm of the pounding rain, which seemed to intensify with each drop. He put the cigarette back in his mouth, pressed down on the clutch. He was ready to peel out of the parking lot and make a run for it. The employees at taco bell must have reported his plates. Maybe he could make it home on back roads and just avoid the interstate. Maybe. Just then, the cop car whizzed past the parking lot. The lights faded and time seemed to speed up again. He let out a sigh, which knocked ashes into his lap. He brushed them off, leaving a chalky white splotch on his faded jeans. Lets get outta here, he said, sensing the disappointment in her face.

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I think we should hit up that Wendys over there. Well be out of there before they can catch us, she said mischievously. Were not going to be so lucky next time. Lets have a drink before we go, she said as she got out of the car and leaned against the door: the bottle in one hand, his cigarette in the other. He thought back to the lights. If the cops came back, he was done. He was charming, but he couldnt explain himself out of vandalism charges and anyone could smell the alcohol on her breath. He had the thought that he had too much to lose. Then, it occurred to him that he didnt. If anything, there was very little separating him from the girl. But thats not what he had ever wanted. He caught a glimpse of his reflection in the wet glass. He looked gaunt. The last few weeks at school, after he had already decided that he would quit, were a hazy blur of too many hits on his bowl and too many bottles of cheap liquor. He had wanted to celebrate the fact that he was leaving school on his own terms. His classes had been much more difficult this semester and he put very little effort into his homework. He hadnt scored above a 60 on his last three exams and realized that it would take too much to pull up his GPA. So, he chose to move back in with his parents to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. Thus far, that involved sleeping in until noon, playing video games, attempting to salvage a broken relationship, and driving around Virginia with a stranger. But then, he thought about his sister, the doctor who just got hired as a partner and his brother, the philanthropist, part of him wished that he had something worth losing. He got out of the car, walked around and opened her door. Were leaving. Get in, he said, motioning to the opened door. What a fuckin wimp, she replied, taking another gulp, and then wincing. Im not leaving you here, in the middle of nowhere, this late. Get in the damn car, he said. He noticed how young she looked under the parking lot lights. He stared her down and tightened his jaw, waiting for her to listen. God, youre not my father, she said as she climbed back into the car.

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Twenty minutes later, they were getting off the exit. She was talking to someone on her cell phone, trying to convince them to pick her up. From his end, it didnt seem like the arrangement that she had described earlier. Just pull into this 7-11, she said. Theyll meet me here. He parked near the back of the store, just in case they had another run-in with the law, and then went inside to buy another pack of Marlboros. Need anything? he asked. She shrugged in response. He bought a pack of cigarettes, a red bull, and a six pack of twist-cap Coors light. He needed a drink after that little scare, but knew that the beer would make him drowsy. It was going on midnight and he still had miles to go before he could sleep. Theres a beach up the road. Wanna walk towards it while we wait? she asked. He nodded, then handed her a beer. He shoved another one in his pocket, and then they started up the road. He noticed an assortment of empty beer cans littering the grass beside them, but walked past knowing itd be too much work to find a place to throw them away. They got to what was called the beach, which was really twenty feet of coarse pebbles and grainy sand leading up to the water. Is it a full moon? she asked. I think it will be on Monday he said, were just a few days off. But, it didnt seem to matter. The white light engulfed the water below. It was after midnight, but they could see everything clearly. At one point, he had a thought that he might be seeing everything too clearly. The water was so welcoming. It reminded him of bonfires on the beach in Florida. He was so carefree, not very long ago, before he had to try and solve his problems. He wanted so badly to retreat.

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He took off his Converse high tops, peeled down his tube socks, then walked towards the beach. Giant rocks, like stepping stones, projected out of the water. They were so enticing. He started walking out across the stones, reaching his long legs from one to another. You gonna join me? he asked. A few minutes later, she was jumping from rock to rock, careful not to spill her beer into the water. They didnt say a word as they made their way across the rocks. It would have just been too much. The moon, the water, the sound of the waves, words would have only drown out the simplicity and perfection of the moment. He searched to find the cosmic significance of it all, but found himself lost in his own thoughts, and he almost missed a rock and fell into the water. Her cell phone rang, startling both of them. She threw her empty bottle into the water and reached in her pocket for the phone. He winced as he saw the bottle float back and forth, just out of reach. They made their way back to the beach as she continued pleading with someone on the other line. Forreal? Are you fucking kidding me? But you said But. How are you gonna do me like that. They walked back along the road to his car. She paced in the parking lot, finishing her conversation. Then, she got into the Jeep and slammed the door. Whats going on? he asked innocently. They bailed. Where do you want to go now? Take me anywhere. They could be at Virginia Beach in three hours. That could be incredible, he thought. Then he thought about how much Tara loved the beach. She loved looking at her freshly painted toenails as the surf bubbled over them. Maybe we should head back. Its really getting late, he conceded.

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He cracked open his Red Bull, gulping down the first bursts of carbonation, then started the Jeep. The clock on the dashboard read 3:00. They were at least two hours from home. He took out her CD and put Zeppelin back in. She didnt say a word. She sighed heavily and then turned to face him. Just one thing before we go back. How bout a blow job for twenty bucks? Id really like to score a joint when I get back, she said. Hell no! What are you thinking? he said, wearing a horrified expression, I dont want a blow job from you. I have a girlfriend. Shit. I thought thats what you wanted this whole time. I just thought you were going to take me to a hotel or something. What the hell made you think that? Youre just a kid. He sat across from the young girl as she fidgeted in her seat. It was after 3:00 in the morning and he was two hours from home with a teenage girl in his car. What was he thinking? In his head, his parents, siblings, former football coach, former boy scout leader, and former engineering professors all seemed to ask in unison, What did you think would happen? This lecture was all too familiar to him. He often found himself in situations that he didnt think through. He shifted into drive, backed out of the parking lot and got onto the interstate. They didnt speak to each other the whole way back home. Where do you want me to drop you off? Wheres your house? Just go to the WaWa. My boyfriend will pick me up. But its not even 5:00 in the morning. Are you sure? Yeah.

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It had been ten hours since he had pulled up to this gas station to fill up and buy a pack of cigarettes. The sun was still in hibernation, giving the allusion that it wasnt morning yet. He pulled up near the building and shifted into park. Are you sure youll be okay? he asked. Mmmhmmm she nodded, all too ready to get out of the car. She got out, slammed the door and started to walk away. Then, she turned, walked back and through the open window said, Heythanks again. Anytime he replied, as she walked away. He sat there for a minute as he lit another cigarette. How would he ever be able to relay everything that happened that night? The British ska band? Taco Bell? The blue raindrops? The unwelcomed proposition? He wondered for a minute if it was all just an illusion. He had made one giant loop. He pulled out of the parking lot, realizing that the first person he wanted to tell everything to was Tara. He still didnt know what he wanted her to say back, but he wanted to tell her everything. He quickly dialed her number. Where the fuck are you? I already left for work she said. I got tied up with someone last night on my way to your place. Can you meet me? he asked. Im already on my way. If you really want to see me, catch up with me, she said. He knew that this was it. He had one shot to say everything he wanted to say, although he still wasnt sure what that was exactly. He shifted gears and headed towards town. This route was so familiar to him, it was like he was on auto-pilot. He wove in and out of traffic, the trees and cornfields that lined the highway, merely a blur. He felt like he was reenacting a scene from the night before, a surreal moment that could never fully be explained to another human. But, he looked at the passenger seat and all it held was an empty pack of cigarettes, a purple plastic lighter and a pile of Taco Bell condiments.

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He pushed the gas even harder. There was an immediacy to the moment that he couldnt quite grasp. He wanted to see her and then he wanted everything to be resolved. He wanted her face to answer the questions he had been asking. He wanted her to really hear the story and understand what it meant. He wanted her to say something poetic, so that he could just nod and agree. He was pushing 95mph most of the way. He pulled into the parking lot and noticed that she had parked in the only space that was surrounded by other cars, not by other empty spaces. If she knew about this girl he had met, shed get it, he thought to himself. His breath tasted of old cigarettes and the stale, residual sugar from his Red Bull. He hoped that it didnt smell nearly as bad. His rumpled clothes, the sand in his shoes all pointed to indiscretion. If only he could tell her everything, she might get it. He parked in the next row over. He opened his car door, pulling his sunglasses down over his eyes, as the sun had just come up and was shining in his face. Tara watched as he jumped down onto the pavement. Seeing her grimace, he wished that he had parked in the shade. His face didnt adjust to the early morning like it used to. He knew that he was disheveled. The sun was casting an unflattering glow upon him as he walked towards her car. Hey, he said softly, reaching to touch her face. Whats that on your arm? she asked. He looked down and saw a smudge of dark lipstick on his forearm. He touched it and smiled, remembering the liberation he felt inside of the Taco Bell bathroom. Its lipstick. Youll never believe what happened last night. Exactly what I thought. You are such an asshole.

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