When your best friend is a zombie

by Joni Abilene

The Starlights is a bromance and a romance . . . and a romance. You’ll understand once you read the book, which is currently free until Friday. I know writers aren’t supposed to say they love their own stuff, but I love this book. Love, love, love. Keith’s best friend attempts suicide, and if that isn’t enough he has to deal with college applications, a needy girlfriend, and that needy girlfriend’s needy mother–sexy Suzanne. Swirling around all of this is his love of the band Rush, which is the only thing he should be concentrating on, IMO.

But first it’s a bromance.

 

From The Starlights:

I’m outside the front apartment entrance after school, and after taking that test, when Mark’s dad pulls up in an old station wagon. Mark leaves the car, walks over the curb and hits me in the arm. He doesn’t say thanks for saving my life, or glad to see you, or anything like that, but I know that’s what he means with the slug. His hair is wet, like he just washed it, and he doesn’t smell like weed. He smells like Lifeguard.

I hand him the key and we go inside into the hall.

“Is your dad going to sit out there the whole time?”

“Yeah. He’s listening to a game.”

“How much time do you have?”

“He said ten minutes, but I can stretch it to more and he won’t care.” We’re at his door and he sticks in the key and twists the lock. Booger comes running. Mark grabs her and looks around. I feel weird about cleaning the place, but maybe he likes it. I can’t tell. He turns on a few lights and feeds Booger her Kal Kan and then walks around grabbing stuff and shoving it in his jacket pockets. Loose change, chapstick, a comb, a paperback, he’s shoving it all in. He sees the unfiltered Marlboros and looks at me.

“I smoked all yours.”

“These are tough shit, man, but I’ll have one.” He lights up. He opens a drawer in the coffee table that I never knew existed before and slides his hand in. Out comes a little baggie. He shoves that in his jacket too.

“I told Birdie you wanted to hang out.”

“What she’d say?”

“She said . . .” I hate saying it. I’m really gonna give it to that chick next time I see her. She wasn’t the one to find Mark dying in the next room with an empty bottle of pills nearby. She wasn’t the one to call the cops and drag him into the hall. She didn’t have to feed his cat, or see him stuck with tubes and peeing in a bag. She doesn’t know shit about anything. “She said she’s got a boyfriend.” And now I really hate her because she’s forcing me to lie to my best friend.

Mark takes a puff and shrugs. “Those never bothered me. I’ll win her over, wait and see.”

“Man, why do you want to see her anyway?”

“I don’t know. I just like that name. It’s a cool name.”

“But she’s a bitch.”

“Most chicks are.” Mark bends down to grab Booger and gives her a million kisses on her furry neck. “I missed this fucking cat so much.

“So, where’s this girl of yours? Didn’t she come over?”

“Not today. I had to make up a test.”

“Well, you’d better hurry ‘cause I’m back next week. Is she close?”

“Does she live close?”

“No, is she close? Close to doing it?”

“I don’t know, maybe. How do you tell?”

“They can’t stop touching you, that’s how you tell.”

I think of Sally’s hand under the table at school. “She might be close.”

“She must not be if you don’t know. Hold off for a while, make her want you real bad.”

“Man, I can’t hold off. I’ve held off for two years already.”

“Hold off. I’m serious. Give her the cold shoulder a day or two and see what happens. She’ll come running.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive.”

“But you just told me to hurry ‘cause you’ll be back next week.”

“I’ll lend you the place if you need. I’m just trying to help out.”

“All right. Cold shoulder. Shit.”

Mark walks over and looks through the draperies. “Still listening to that game.” He flips on the TV and sits down to watch. “They’re all over me at home. Asking about what I’ll do with my life, where I’m headed. I’m going fucking insane. I just wish they’d shut up and let me finish my week without all the hassle.”

I hesitate before sitting down. It’s hard to pretend what happened didn’t happen. We’re never going to talk about it straight on, but it happened.

“What’s Birdie’s last name?” he asks.

“I don’t know.”

“Well ask tomorrow and then give me a call. I’ll take it from there.”

I change the topic. All this talk about Birdie is making me nauseous. She’ll take Mark, and she’ll wreck him, like a car into a tree. And then she’ll leave. I can’t let it happen. “I learned a new song. A Queen song.”

“Great.”

“I might try to write one tonight.”

“Go for it.”

“Do you think we could still be The Starlights? I got a new guitar.”

“Man, you did?”

“Yeah, to replace the old one. So that means we can still be a band.” I grab a smoke, light up, and pretend not to feel the burn.

Mark shakes his head a lot. “Just you and me? Man, I don’t know. That’s not much of a band.”

“But you said it was a good idea.”

“That was before.”

“Before what?”

“Before I found out life sucked and I was a loser.”

“Who told you that?”

“Oh nobody.”

We both shut up to watch some afternoon game show. A car horn blasts outside. Mark checks his watch. “I guess he’s had it.” He grabs another smoke. Leans back. “What a fuckin’ mess.” He doesn’t say he’s sorry he did it, or that he’s glad to be alive.

“Are you sure I should wait?” I ask.

“Wait for what?”

“With Sally—what if she’s ready now?” I can’t keep smoking the unfiltered. My lungs are fire. I crush it out in the ashtray on top of all those nudie magazines.

“She ain’t. You’d know, and if you don’t know, she ain’t. Give her time. Really psyche her out.”

“Okay.”

He finishes that smoke and gives Booger a million kisses. We go outside and I lean up against the apartment’s concrete entrance while he gets in his dad’s car and drives off. I don’t know why I feel lonelier now after seeing him, but I do.

 

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