The Remainders

By Matthew Arnold Stern All Rights Reserved ©


Chapter Ten: Reseda

I had just put on my apron when Ngoc walked into the office.

“Dylan, meet Pearl. She is our new cashier.”

Her pale blue eyes stared at me. She was about as tall as me, but I wasn’t very tall myself.

I reached out my hand. “Nice to meet you.”

She gave me a brief smile and a firm handshake. I gave her a quick look. She wore a short paisley dress with long sleeves. It was a size too large. She had on her green apron, and it seemed too loose as well.

Ngoc stepped between us. “I want you to give her a tour of the store.”

I took Pearl up and down each aisle. Past the tampons with rough cardboard applicators, cases and cables for long-obsolete smartphones, and candles for the least popular Catholic saints. Pearl didn’t say a word. I didn’t either when Kishana took me on a tour on my first day.

I then showed her the bathrooms. Usually, the closing crew forgets to clean and stock them. Fortunately, they did the night before. They even remembered to dump the trash cans next to the toilets because we have customers who came from countries where they don’t trust the toilet paper and sewage systems. I showed her the break room with the microwave and refrigerator no one has cleaned in months. I warned her about the coffee. No one has cleaned the coffee maker in months either. Somehow, Ngoc and the other coffee lovers who work at the store drank it anyway.

Next stop was the warehouse, and I was instantly pissed. The closing crew had unloaded the truck, but they left the pallets still wrapped in the middle of the floor. I had to unwrap them and put the shit away. I wanted to say “shit,” but I never swore at work. Ngoc frowned on that. But when he talks to himself in Vietnamese, I’m sure half those words are profanity. Even so, I didn’t want to swear in front of a woman I just met.

When I had nothing left to show her, I said, “That’s the end of the tour. Do you have any questions?”

She stared at me for a moment with those pale, deep-set blue eyes. “If you’re homeless, how do you keep your teeth so white?”

I stared back at her for a moment. “What makes you think I’m homeless?”

“Your hair is greasy, your clothes obviously look like they haven’t been washed in a month, and your shoes clearly came from a thrift shop.”

I didn’t know what to make of this woman. I knew plenty of girls back home who talked shit about other’s looks, but those girls had the fashions, hairstyles, and manicures to be able to look down on others. But Pearl was talking shit about me in that dumpy, out-of-style, baggy dress of hers.

That dress.

I cleared my throat and deepened my voice to sound like I was charge.

“I don’t know if Ngoc told you this, but you shouldn’t wear loose clothing. It can catch on things. It’s a safety hazard.”

Then to make the point, I touched a fold of her sleeve and pulled it out. The fabric felt nice and thick, though. But I then realized that it was a bad idea for a guy to just reach out and touch some woman’s clothing. Did I get myself in trouble?

But she pushed back her brownish blond hair and stared at me with those pale blue eyes. She gave a small smile.

“You’re not a virgin, are you?”

I let go of that sleeve as if it were on fire. I went from getting worried to getting pissed. I folded my arms.

“One other thing, don’t ask me about my personal life. You wouldn’t like the answers.”

I turned and headed towards the warehouse door. Pearl didn’t say a word as she followed me. I didn’t either. I led her back to Ngoc, who was waiting by the registers. I figured he would train her how to use them. I headed back to the warehouse to put the stock away. I figured the less I saw or heard Pearl, the better.

Here’s the answer I knew Pearl wouldn’t like. I wasn’t a virgin. And her name was Zoey.

I was 14. Her dad was a big deal city council member who got elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She made the varsity cheerleader squad as a sophomore, and she was an honor student. Clearly, she was out of my league.

Gabriel was the only one of my homies who drove at the time. I was hanging out with him and Jaime, then Aston called us and said Zoey was throwing a party at her house. He said her folks were out of town again, and he could get us in. I was down.

Aston told us we should put on something nice. I had my black dress shirt and slacks from my middle school promotion, and they still fit well. Dad bought me a pair of black dress shoes for Grandma Josephine’s funeral. They were a little tight, but a couple bong rips made the pain go away.

Zoey’s parents had the nicest house I’d ever seen. It even made Jaime’s look small. We pulled up on a long gray stone driveway. There were pillars in front of the house and large mahogany doors with etched and frosted glass. When we stepped in, the great room seemed to go on forever. Crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling. And everything was white. White walls, white marble floors, white rugs, white furniture. I was afraid to touch anything.

Aston patted Jaime and me on the shoulders. “Told you this was awesome.”

And overwhelming. It seemed every popular person in school was there. And everyone had a drink in their hand. I figured they were blazing in the back. I found myself drifting alone through the crowd. All those people talking and laughing and drinking around me, and I felt like I wasn’t there. Like a ghost walking through a wall of people.


Zoey was, in a word, stunning. Perfectly shiny and perfectly straight blond hair. Her makeup on point with smoky gray eye shadow. Her cream colored dress was super short, super tight, and super low cut and showed the most amazing cleavage and legs I had ever seen.

She also had a serious expression.

I expected her to throw out my homies and me right then and there. I knew I didn’t belong there. So, getting tossed out wouldn’t upset me that much, except I’d miss out on what was certainly primo kush.

Then her shiny red lips parted. “My whiskey bottle’s too full. I need someone to help me empty it.”

I was more into weed and bars than alcohol. But who would pass up a chance to hang out with someone who drank whiskey? Especially a hot-looking girl like Zoey.

I followed her into what looked like a home office. One wall was lined with mahogany bookcases filled with books. Another was filled with plaques and pictures of her father shaking hands with various politicians. The room had its own fireplace, which was lit even though it was a warm day. Over the fireplace was a gun rack with several rifles and shotguns. One looked like an assault rifle.

Zoey opened a cabinet between the bookcases. She took out two cut crystal glasses and set them on a low mahogany table next to a brown leather sofa. She opened another door and pulled out what looked like an ice bucket. But what she pulled out with the tongs didn’t look like ice. They looked like gray, cube-shaped rocks.

“Ever seen whiskey stones before?”

I was too taken in by her beauty to answer.

I kept my eyes on her as she took out the whiskey bottle. It was definitely top-shelf stuff. She poured a shot in each of our glasses. She then took my hand and led me to the sofa. Her hands felt soft and warm in mine.

She smiled, raised a glass, and took a sip. I smiled back and took a sip.

“This is good.” I said. “Must be expensive too. Won’t your dad be pissed?”

“He won’t notice. He’s in Washington. They’re trying to repeal Obamacare again.” She took another sip. “He calls President Obama the N word.”

“Really?” I took another sip.

“In private, of course. Never in public. I don’t know why everyone thinks politicians are so great. They’re just middle school kids in suits.”

She downed the rest of her drink. I downed the rest of mine.

She held up the bottle. “Want more?”

I nodded. She poured twice as much in my glass. She poured even more in hers.

“You’re different from what they say you are at school.” She took a long sip.

“What do they say?”

“You’re a downer and a loser. But you’re actually pretty cool.”

“Thanks.” I took a long sip.

“In fact.” She flipped back her long blond hair. “I kinda like you.”

And after a couple more glasses, she liked me so much that she took me to her bedroom. She flung the Disney stuffed animals off her bed and threw me on her Tangled comforter. Then we got tangled in each other. I pulled up her dress and saw she went commando. I fingered her while she unbuttoned my slacks.

I brought a condom with me. I wasn’t stupid. I even paid attention in sex ed and tried not to giggle when the teacher put a condom on a banana. It was a different story when I was knee-deep in it, and drunk, and I was struggling to tear open the package and figure out which end goes first on while trying not to cum on Rapunzel’s face.

“Don’t worry about it,” she puffed between breaths. “I can’t get pregnant now. I just had my period.”

And she was wrong.

We didn’t know right away. We had been going out for a month when she noticed she didn’t get her period. And a few weeks later, she started getting sick in the morning. She didn’t tell her parents, but we knew she had to at some point.

In history class the next day, we watched a video of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They showed people jumping off the World Trade Center. They decided they wouldn’t wait to burn to death or be crushed by the falling towers. They would take charge. Couples even held hands as they jumped.

It sounds sick now, but I thought how cool that would be. I could enjoy those last few moments, free falling through the sky. Air rushing by me. Perhaps that would be the way Zoey and I would go. We’d have to go to LA for the really tall buildings, but there was some in Irvine that were tall enough. She wouldn’t have to face her parents. I wouldn’t have to face mine.

But Zoey had a crazier idea.

After that history class, she pulled me aside and drew me close. “Let’s run away together. We can have this child. We’ll raise this child together!”

“How?” I gasped.

“I have money. I have an uncle in LA. We can stay with him, finish high school, and get jobs. We’ll be a family! It’ll be so cool!”

“We don’t know how to raise a child!”

“We’ll figure it out!” She pulled me close and kissed me. Her normally cool face lit up with excitement. “I’m so lucky I met you!”

She held me close. A hug I thought would last forever.

But the next day, she didn’t show up for school. Then the next. And I didn’t hear from her during the weekend. I thought about calling her. But if she were planning something, I didn’t want to tip her off to her family. So, I waited. Mom and Steven didn’t know how nervous I was, but they too busy planning some megachurch thing in Orlando. I thought about calling Dad. But what if he didn’t accept me being a dad?

Monday came. When I finally saw Zoey, she looked strange. She wore a high collared white and lace dress blouse and dark slacks. And she had this serene look on her face. She walked directly to me and put her hand on my shoulder. When she spoke, her voice was flat and robotic.

“You don’t have to worry about it anymore. It has been taken care of.”


“It has been taken care of.”

“You mean, you had an...”

“It has been taken care of.” She then looked at me with dead eyes. “And my father says if you ever speak a word of this or come near me again, he will have you killed. He knows people who can do it and not leave a trace.”

She turned and walked away. Although I’d see her around school, I never spoke to her or about her ever again.

I saw her father on TV just before I was kicked out. He was telling Congress to defund Planned Parenthood because they performed abortions. I guess he believes in the sanctity of life, unless you’re rich and have something to hide.

I can’t fault Zoey for getting an abortion though. She would have had to carry that baby and get shit for being a teen mom. She’d be kicked out of the cheerleading squad and lose her popularity. And God knows what her parents would have done to her. And who knows if her uncle would have really taken us in. But I wished we kept the baby. I would have like to have known him or her. I would’ve loved that child. And that child would’ve loved me. And I would’ve had someone to care about. I would’ve finally had a reason to live.

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