“Going to Texas for a grocery run,” Harper folded the bed lid down on his good pickup. “Got the freezer in the back. You need anything from Costco or Sam’s, now’s the time to holler.”
“Damn, Harper. No notice?” Cheryl’s tongue poked a bump in her cheek while she thought. “Can I text you a list?”
“I wanna go!”
“Waco, your uncle has better things to do than babysit you.”
“Baby sittin’ is that thing,” she pointed at her baby brother. “Please?”
Harper watched the dynamic, waited, caught his sister’s expression start to soften.
“She can come, Big Sis. I need to hear some new music, anyway. But,” he eyed his ten-year-old niece, “you can’t hang on the phone the whole time. The point of a road trip co-pilot is to entertain the driver with stories, program the GPS so I don’t get lost, fly the playlist and pass stuff from the munchie bag.”
“You already know where you’re goin’, an your truck knows my phone. Mom?” Waco raised her eyebrows, checked in with both adults.
“Whatever,” Cheryl shrugged through baby bounces. “She gets under your feet or turns full nuisance, park her in the back with her phone and drop the lid.”
“So, what happened to you and that lady from the casino?” Waco shifted sideways in the passenger seat, legs crossed Indian style.
“She wasn’t from the casino. I met her at the casino.”
“Like a pickup?”
“Jeez, kiddo… Yeah. Kinda like that.”
“Mom thought she was a prosti-whatsit. Like you were payin’ to be with her. Like that show on Netflix.”
“Your mom has a vivid imagination and needs to put some control on your TV.”
“Why? That stuff’s in the library, and on the internet. So…?”
“We met. At the casino. She was fun to be with. A lot of fun. I thought we were doin’ okay, but…”
“Okay. Gotta promise – you can’t tell a soul about this,” knowing she’d tell everyone who’d listen. “Cause it’ll make me look bad.” He made the cutoff from 70 to 377 South, reset the cruise control. “So, I’m rockin’ along with this girl, thinkin’ we would hook up for the weekend, and I called her. I guess it was on a Wednesday? Anyway, our last couple of calls hadn’t gone all that smooth, but I thought it was down to timing. You know, interrupting each other in the middle of work, stuff like that. But the last time she seemed even more not into it than the last couple of times I’d called. We were talking, though, or I was, and then her doorbell rang. She says it’s the tree guys or the pool guys, somebody like that –”
“She has a pool?”
“Yep, a big one. And a big ol’ yard full of trees.”
“Wow… Who was it? The tree guys or the pool guys?” She put her palms to her cheeks. “Maybe she had another boyfriend!”
“Never found out. See, what happened was when she saw whoever was in the driveway and heard the doorbell, she said, ‘Just a sec’ and put her phone down. I could hear her explaining something to whoever it was and heard her shut the door. And then she walked right past her phone like I’d never been there and went back to loading her dishwasher. I knew because I could hear water running and the dishes clanking. I waited a couple of minutes, to see if she’d remember I was there, but she didn’t. I hung up. That’s that.”
“She just like blew you off?” He had her full attention. “To do the dishes?”
“Wow… I thought gettin’ blown off for a baby was bad.” She reached down to the floor, stuck her hand in the plastic bag from the Love’s her mom managed. “Crunchy Cheetos oughta make you feel better.” She handed him a small, crinkly bag. “They always do me.”
The Honda van pulled up and stopped in the crosswalk, narrowly missing Harper, Waco and the large, jovial black lady they’d talked with on the way up the parking aisle at Sam’s.
“Honey,” the black lady said, “they coulda missed seein’ you and the girl. But me?” She scrunched her face up.
“You are kinda hard to miss.”
She was hard to miss. Not only the size of an NFL lineman, but dressed in a fuchsia-colored velveteen workout suit and safety orange cross trainers. As they stepped around the van the passenger side sliding door opened and about a dozen Asians from nine to ninety piled out, clown car style. Inside at the cart corral they all vanished inside, abandoning the eldest, a frail gray-haired female. Harper stepped around her, fished a cart out of the line, pushed it toward the black lady. She smiled, took the cart and got swallowed by the shopping cavern. Harper pulled another cart, checked the alignment, motioned to Waco who took the handle and pushed it toward the door. He pulled one more basket, offered it to the Asian lady, took a step –
“Hickey dickey tickey tah.”
Harper checked in with the Asian grandmother. She motioned to the four lanes of baskets. “Hickey dickey tickey tah.”
“Do you want a different basket… Or…?” He pulled another basket loose, offered it to her.
“Hickeydickeytickey tah!” She was edging up on the universal if-no-one-seems-to-understand-talk-louder routine, grabbed the front of a cart from two lanes over.
“That one? You want that one? Fine.” Harper pulled the cart loose after untangling the baby seat belt that had strung three carts together.
“HICKEY DICKEY TICKEY TAH!” she said, pushing the cart back and forth about six inches.
“Fuck me.” Harper tested the cart for her, rolling it back and forth. She pushed it away. Pointed to another lane.
Harper shook his head, offered a palms up sorry-I-don’t-get-it shrug and followed Waco into the store where a blue vested chubby man with a Slavic accent asked, “What you do to dat womans?”
“Nothing. She wants something but it beats hell outta me what.”
“Maybe she tink you work here. Happens all time. I go see.”
They heard gramma go off one more time before the glass door slid shut, watched her and the eastern bloc man shake basket handles, talk in raised voices and gesture a lot with their hands.
Turning from that, Waco immediately stopped by a big display of new iPhones, pointed. “Hickey dickey tickey tah?”
Harper put up a playful stern face. “Hickey dickey tickey tah!”
“Darn it,” Waco said, pocketing the sale flyer and sighing theatrically. “Hickey, dickey, tickey, tahhhh…”
Harper answered his phone on the third ring. “Hey, Cheryl.”
“Hey yourself. Harper, we can afford to buy clothes for our own daughter.”
“I know that. But we had time, and she had the plan worked before she ever got in my truck this mornin’. She found out all on her own that FM 289 is Preston Road in North Texas and Surprise! There’s the mall, Uncle H!”
“And, being the sucker you are, you pulled right on in.”
“Hey, I got a couple of huge Snickerdoodle cookies and a jalapeno pretzel for my trouble.”
“Also on your dime. Great. I’m not even gonna ask her what kind of junk she ate because I can’t get a straight answer out of her since she got home. And look, I’m not jumpin’ your shit, Harp. It’s just that she knows I would never buy her a pair of jeans with holes in them and you’re a chump for that kid. What do I owe you?”
“Not even for the Sam’s and Trader Joe’s run and the stack of Costco Margherita pizzas?”
“Nope. Tell Randall I need to borrow him and that humongous pressure washer of y’all’s sometime soon.”
“Fair enough, but make it a weekend. And, uh, Harp? What I said about Waco and no straight answers? What the hell does ‘hickey dickey tickey tah’ mean?”