After my tour, my first day was the blur of trying to learn from a firehose as every job's first day is. Tad showed me everything I had done wrong during my first poop scooping adventure, and then set me to practice in the enclosures of Chandler and Monica, and Niles and Daphne. I learned how to use the cash register from Evelyn even though "no one bought anything" and I followed Tad as he led a group of children into enclosures with their parents to pet the llamas.
"My trainee Steve is a regular comedian," Tad was proud to tell all the parents. "Aren't ya Steve."
"No respect," I said, doing an incredibly poor Rodney Dangerfield that nonetheless sent Tad into paroxysms of laughter.
The next day was Evelyn's day to give tours and she said she'd show me how a tour was really done.
"Tad has many talents, but showmanship, sadly, is not one."
"He did alright."
"No one who thinks you're that hilarious is a showman. I know this and I've only known you one day. You seem okay, Steve but you aren't a shoe-in for Saturday Night Live. Anyway you need a ride? You can throw your big wheel in the back."
"I would object to that characterization if it weren't so accurate."
"What have I been telling you, new guy Steve? Stick with me. I know what I'm talking about."
Her car was in the "employee parking lot" which was just a worn-down patch of grass by the porta potties and as we neared her car I noticed what I hadn't on the tour of the grounds earlier.
"You drive a purple hatchback."
"You are extraordinarily observant."
"You almost ran me over this morning!"
"I most certainly did not," she said in her most indignant tone.
"To avoid a squirrel. You swerved away from the squirrel and almost hit me."
She stopped just outside the driver's side door with her hands on the roof, looking at me across the width of her car.
"Huh," she said. "Sorry about that."
"That's it? Just huh?"
"Well, I can't very well start hitting squirrels, Stephen."
She said this as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
"I would think you could relax that a little bit when the alternative is hitting me."
Hand to her chin, she said:
"Undecided. Now let's go. Toss that sweet hog in the back I'm hungry and it's cereal night."
She unlocked the door and slid into the seat smoothly, tucking her fiery locks behind her ear as she went. I saw the glint of a green stone in a cartilage piercing for the briefest of moments. Had my bike been adult-sized, it would not have fit in the back of her two seater, but I shut the back easily and we sped away.
Mom and dad were bursting with questions about my first day and I was loath to tell them that I hadn't hated it so I slogged my way through their questions, offering the barest of answers and any aggrieved teen might have done. All things considered, I think I was pretty convincing. I couldn't have them thinking they knew what was best for me. That would have made them unbearably smug and I couldn't have that at. No, I could not have that at all.
That evening, I spent more time than I wanted to thinking about Evelyn. If we were to be successful friends, I needed to think of her the normal friend amount, and definitely curb any thoughts of how her ears were angled so that the tops of them were sometimes visible poking through the red waves of her hair. It was profoundly unhelpful to tell myself stop thinking about her because as literally everyone knows from that movie Inception, when someone tells you not to think about elephants...you think about elephants. Evelyn is my elephants.
In the morning, I was wiping milk from my barely-there mustache on my shirt sleeve when my mother told me my friend was there to take me to work.
"A snotty girl about your age."
Mom was not a melodramatic creature and must have been offended by whoever was at the door, but that did not describe anyone I knew. In fact, I knew almost no one at all in Tybee so the choices were thin.
"Go on," she said. "She's waiting in her weird, little car."
I wolfed down the rest of my cereal and smelled my pits as I had not yet put on deodorant. I was going to run back to the bathroom to rub some on when the horn out front blared. Whoever was there was laying on the horn. I sprinted from the house to see Evelyn's purple hatchback parked haphazardly over the curb in our front yard.
"You know, your mom is kinda mean," she said as I slid into the passenger seat."
"Why are you here?"
"Okay, you're welcome, first of all, for the ride. Secondly, are we going to ignore the first thing I said or what?"
"You ignore things I say frequently."
"Yes, well many things you say are not all that great, Steve. This was, however, a direct insult to the woman who brought you into this world."
"She called you snotty."
"I asked if her scrawny son was ready for work."
"Ah, well. That's a whole thing. I was bullied a lot and…"
"Steve. I'm PMSing and I sort of yelled at your mom and now I feel bad about it so let's just drop it."
"You were the one who wanted to talk about it!"
She put the car in drive and pulled away from the curb. I looked back to see my mom peeking through the window above the kitchen sink.
"She'll get over it quickly. It won't be a big thing. If you were ever to come over or anything you wouldn't need to worry or…"
"Steve, I asked you to drop it."
The rest of the drive to Larry's was sullen and silent. The grocery bag under my feet rustled uncomfortably to the ineffective AC set on low. It was a dreary day, skies overcast and rain misting but never forming into actual drops. The tires of the old hatchback squelched in the wet grass drive of Larry's and came to a squeaky stop left of the gift shop.
"I just…" Evelyn began.
And then she screamed. Scream isn't even the right word for it. It isn't easy to describe the noise that erupted from her and how it filled the void of the small car's interior, making up for all the silence of the drive in one fell, animalistic swoop. It was primal and upsetting; tears rolled down her cheeks and she punched the steering wheel five times, each time punctuated by a staccato bark of the horn. It was over as abruptly as it began. She wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her shirt. They were barely rimmed in red when she turned to face me, hand steady on the emergency brake.
"Ready for another day in paradise?"