“Ha, no. I just..um..wanted to see if you’d reconsider.”
“Well..I..uh..I don’t know,” she fiddled with the charm necklace she was wearing. “My mom always told me not to take rides from strange boys,” she exaggerated a shy demeanor, fluttering her eyes.
“You know, you’re insecure act isn’t going to work on me, Agatha,” I winked.
“I guess I have to try harder, James. So where’s the ‘49 Mercury?”
“In the shop. Right now it’s that big bastard over there.” When I glanced over my shoulder, I spotted Quinn, Kyler, and Rian making their way towards us. “And here comes the rest of the crew. If you’re going to make a run for it, do it now.” But she didn’t move.
“My apologies, my lady,” Quinn bowed, “if I my big mouth frightened you, but our brother Cayden here told us all about you, and we couldn’t let you drive away before introducing ourselves. I am Quinn, lead guitar in our little brigade. This fine young specimen is Kyler, lead vocals, and this little spitfire is Rian, our keyboardist.” Kyler waved and smiled at Maeve, but Rian, being the wannabe crooner, kissed her hand and said, “I’m enchanted.”
“Dude, you just took that from The Temple of Doom,” Kyler lightly swatted Rian in the back of the head.
“What? I did not! What are you talking about?”
“You know, the scene when they make it to Pankot Palace, and the head dude told Willie Scott, “I’m enchanted,” Kyler finished in a bad English accent.
“Whatever man, it’s not my fault you’re jealous of my skills even though I’m the youngest.”
“Guys, please. Can we maybe not act like we were raised by wolves?” I interrupted, even though Maeve was quietly laughing at their antics.
“It’s nice meeting you guys, and congratulations on all the success you’re achieving so quickly. I hear you put on a really good show.”
“Thank you, but our shows are not just shows, my dear. They are life experiences.”
“Quinn,” I gave him a stern look.
“Hey, all I am saying is you may walk away with..a new outlook on life.”
“I am sure of it.” I could tell she wasn’t impressed.
“So are we going to stand around in a mall parking lot all night or are we going to party?” Kyler complained.
“Only if Maeve agrees to join us,” Quinn smiled. “Otherwise, we’re stuck with Kung Fu Master battles and McDLT’s while Gus cruises the parkway.”
“Yeah, come out with us. I promise we’re not as scary as we may look.” I think I failed at not sounding like a 5 year old in Toys R’ Us.
“Oh..um..well, I would really love to, but I..made other plans.”
“Watching Nick at Nite until you pass out? Those are plans?” She shot me a fake dirty look.
“Ooh, what’s your favorite show on Nick at Nite?” Kyler, the movie and TV buff, asked excitedly.
“The Bad News Bears.”
“Mine is Dennis the Menace.”
“Mr. Ed for me,” added Rian.
“Did you know they used peanut butter on the horse’s gums to get his mouth to move?” Kyler asked.
“No, I didn’t. That’s crazy,” Maeve giggled as she made another attempt to search for her keys in her backpack. Sensing we were losing her, I looked over at Quinn for help.
“Maeve, you are more than welcome to join us on the bus tonight for some good old black and white TV and junk food, but we were thinking more along the lines of wreaking havoc at Seaside Heights. But we would need guidance from a Jersey boardwalk veteran. Are you the Frog Bog queen we need?”
“Are you kidding? My family and I practically lived on that boardwalk. Haven’t been there in a while though,” she finished sadly.
“Then that settles it. Let’s roll! I’m dying for some soft serve.” Rian ran back towards the bus.
“Yeah, come on, Maeve. It’ll be fun. Somebody besides me has to beat this numbnuts in Skeeball.” Kyler pointed to Quinn.
“Ky, it’s not our place to push the matter. Let’s leave these two be. Maeve, it was a pleasure meeting you,” Quinn bowed then patted Kyler on the shoulder, urging his friend to follow him back towards the bus.
“Hope to see you around, Maeve,” Kyler strode backwards to catch up with Quinn. “And don’t worry about my brother there. He won’t bite unless you ask him to.”
“Kyler, piss off!” I yelled and shook my head. “Sorry about that, we’re trying to figure out whether he needs an exorcism or a shrink.”
“That’s okay,” she laughed. “They seem like really great guys.”
“Yeah, sometimes better in small doses,” I wisecracked. “But we’ve known each other since we were in diapers so…”
“You must have a great time together then – traveling all over, playing your music, running from teenage girls in heat through shopping malls.”
“You’re glamorizing it, Agatha.”
“Once again, I speak as I find. James.”
“If you got to know us, you might find more to us than what you see in Teen Beat magazine.”
“Well, I already know one of you doesn’t like being mobbed, willing to dive into clothing racks to escape certain death by Loves Baby Soft perfume.”
“Are you sure you won’t come to the boardwalk with us? We’ll bring you right back here to your car whenever you’re ready.” The horn on the bus sounded. It had to have been Rian, and Gus undoubtedly smacked his hand away. No one ever touched the wheel but Gus.
“I don’t know, Cayden. I..I -”
“Look, I’m sorry. Quinn is right. I shouldn’t be pressuring you. I’m just..I’m really glad I got to meet you, Maeve Wicklow.” Despite my better judgment, I took her hand and kissed it before backing away to jog towards the bus. Its engine hummed in the otherwise quiet night. I felt like a complete fool. I wanted to keep running down the road until I finally hit the beach. Once I found an overturned lifeguard boat, I could hide underneath until I was forgotten. I never thought it would be hard for most people to do.
Music to my ears.
“Wait up,” Maeve caught up to me, out of breath. “Okay, I’ll go. Just know I have fountain pens in this bag that I’m not afraid to use as weapons, so if any of you guys value your testicles, I suggest you don’t try anything.”
“Noted,” a raised my hands in surrender. “Come on, let me give you the tour of our humble abode on wheels.”
All the guys except for Donovan were standing around outside of the bus when I reached them with Maeve at my heels.
“Well now, the skeptical Jersey girl has changed her mind,” Quinn grinned.
“I can’t have a bunch of out-of-towners leave without showing you where to get the best sausage sandwiches.”
“Awesome, let’s book!” Quinn knocked on the door and seconds later it swung open. Before any of us could react, Ezekiel leapt into Maeve’s arms, startling her. She still managed to safely catch him despite the shock. He immediately started licking her cheek.
“Damn! He usually hates every living thing on Earth besides us!” Kyler looked over at me in amazement.
“I know. I mean, it’s not like he’s ever viscous, but he definitely doesn’t care to be around others.” I scratched Ezekiel’s head as he continued to sniff at Maeve’s face and ear which made her giggle and smile. I liked watching how her eyes fluoresced even under the pale yellow glow of the light post.
“Well, sometimes animals can surprise you,” she rocked him. “He’s adorable. What kind of dog is he?”
“He’s some sort of Pug mix. We’re not sure. But anyway, may I introduce Ezekiel. My apologies if he came on a little too strong there.”
“Aww, no worries. He’s being a perfect gentleman if you ask me. Let’s just hope his friends do the same,” she winked.
“Come on, you too. The rides and games aren’t open 24 hours,” yelled Quinn from inside the bus. I motioned to her as if to say “ladies first” to which she gave me a playful little eye roll. Suddenly, I remembered the bus looked like a college dorm room. I didn’t get a chance to clean it and I certainly wasn’t expecting company. She said hello to Gus while still holding Ezekiel and our enigmatic driver politely smiled and nodded. Following right behind her, I watched as she scanned our living area. Clothes, bags of snacks, soda cans, books, magazines, and papers littered almost every space that wasn’t used for sitting or sleeping.
“Wow, talk about Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, huh?” Her signature sarcasm never waned. Ezekiel began to whine and squirm in her arms, so she kissed him then let him down near his water bowl. The guys relaxed at the table or on the couches and bickered about what to watch on TV.
“Admittedly, this place could use a woman’s touch, but when you’re living the confirmed bachelor road life, a Pinto can feel like home,” Quinn shoved a stack of Dorito chips in his mouth.
“Come here, let me introduce you to Gus,” I took her hand, which she tried to pull away from mine for a mere second or two, and led her back to the front of the bus.
“Gus, this is Maeve. Maeve, meet the driver of our chariot and the world’s most reliable walking encyclopedia, Gus.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” she extended her hand to Gus. He clasped her fingers gently and gave her a light shake.
“It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do. Ja–”
“Jane Austen,” she replied before giving Gus a chance to cite the speaker. Gus smiled and nodded in appreciation.
“How did you know that?”
“My grandmother brought me up on Jane Austen. Among many other geniuses.”
All I could do was lock eyes with her. At that moment, I knew she would only continue to show us how remarkable she was. She would prove to the others that she was the one we needed.
“Hey, are we getting the hell out of this parking lot and doing something or should I just go back to bed?” Donovan stormed out from behind the curtain that separated our living area from our bunks. He grabbed a T-shirt and threw it on as soon as he saw Maeve but made no attempt to introduce himself.
“Who pissed in your Ovaltine, ya meat head? We have a visitor,” reprimanded Kyler.
“Don,” I walked Maeve over to our grossly muscular drummer. “This is Maeve. Maeve meet Donovan. He may look scary but he’s really a gentle giant.”
“Hi, nice to meet you.”
“How ya doing?” He made no attempt to shake hands, and he barely looked at her. It was a nice enough greeting, I figured, for him anyway. Donovan walked passed us and sat in the seat closest to the front as Gus maneuvered his way out of the parking lot.
“Don’t worry about him,” I whispered to her. “He has a hard time..warming up to new people.”
“He seems shy, for such a big guy. He looks like he could have been in the movie, Predator.”
“Yeah, Jesse Ventura robbed him of that role.” She jokingly elbowed me. “Come on, let’s take a load off.”
I cleared a space for her to sit on the couch, and she placed her treasured backpack on the floor by her feet. I got her a soda, and we passed the time telling jokes and childhood stories as we watched Nick at Nite. It was a good 25 minute drive down the parkway to get to Seaside, and in that time, she seemed to become more relaxed, not so quick to turn to the jokes or sarcasm as a shield. When she put her journal on the table and flipped through some pages, the silent, slack-jawed astonishment amongst the guys didn’t go unnoticed. Even Donovan moved closer to us for a look at her work. By the time I could get the guys to snap out of it and return to Earth, the lights of the boardwalk shown through the enormous windshield.
“Last one to the Frog Bog is buying dinner!” Like an 8 year old on his first trip to Disney World, Rian ran off the bus as soon as it stopped.
“Shall we, Ms. Wicklow.”
“With pleasure, Mr. Donnelly.”
That smile would be the one thing that could kill me. And I might have been totally okay with that.
Let the Games Begin
“Okay, okay, Maeve’s turn. Two truths and a lie,” Kyler took a big bite out of his second sausage sandwich.
“Umm..okay, let me think..hmmm..I broke two fingers falling off a swing when I was eight. I eat the cookie part of an Oreo before the filling, and I squirted what was left of a Ssips iced tea drink box into a bully’s ear.”
“I’m going to go with the Oreo. That’s a lie. Nobody does that,” Quinn insisted.
“I say the juice box in the bully’s ear,” Rian feverishly shook and squeezed what was left in the ketchup bottle onto his basket of crinkle cut fries.
Donovan read a comic book he won at the first game he played when we arrived. I knew he didn’t like me which I couldn’t figure out. Cayden said it took awhile for him to warm up to strangers, but this cold shoulder seemed to be bigger than just hesitation. It was as if he didn’t trust me. I knew they had a lot of run-ins with psycho fan girls, but I wasn’t acting like one at all. Maybe that was why he didn’t care for me? It was puzzling to say the least.
“What about you, Cayden? You haven’t tried to guess one yet.”
“Oh, Cayden isn’t allowed to play. He’s too good at this game. Too much of an advantage,” Quinn quickly chimed in.
“Yeah, I know everything about these guys already.”
“You don’t know everything about me.”
“Maybe I do, maybe I don’t.”
“What are you, telepathic?” I jested. Kyler spit out his soda followed by a stifled laugh from Quinn.
“No, just a really good guesser that’s all,” he glared at his friends.
“So who got it right?” Rian asked impatiently.
“Well, you were both wrong. I haven’t broken a single bone in my body. Knock on wood.”
“Who the hell eats the cookie before the cream?” Quinn shook his head.
“I do. Ever hear of saving the best for last?”
“You squirted juice in some asshole’s ear? Why did you waste it? You never get enough in one juice box as it is.” Cayden nudged me with his elbow.
“Hey, the kid stole my favorite colored pencils and he snapped my training bra in the middle of class. He had it coming.”
And there we were. Scarfing down some boardwalk staples and having a few laughs at a picnic table as the sounds of games and rides filled the salty air. It was unusually warm for an April evening. Spring always seemed to take its old sweet time in the northeast. But that night seemed to be perfect, on many levels, and that scared the hell out of me.
As we finished up our meals and continued to shoot the breeze, my mind kept wandering back to the same question. How did I get here? Under normal circumstances, I had little to offer what would ordinarily intrigue the opposite sex. Hell, I had never been on a real date. I wasn’t sure if anybody really went on official dates anymore. I didn’t think of that situation as being a date. There were five of them and one of me. That’s quite gross actually, even for the Jersey shore.
But I still would have never imagined hanging out in a place that held boatloads of treasured memories for me with five guys in a fairly famous band. No one knew where I was and with whom, but there was no way anyone would be coming to look. For once I wasn’t Maeve anymore, erased from my usual existence. I kind of liked that. I tried not to like it too much.