I stop a little further down in front of a vendor’s table stacked with sandwiches and cans of… La Croi...ks? Oliver keeps walking after Avril and nearly falls when he’s pulled back. Uh, huh. We’re stopping, bud... Why am I being sassy in my own head?
In one smooth motion, Avril does an about-face and pushes him into my side. “Dude, yes! I haven’t had a decent sandwich since like...last Monday.” She picks up a couple of the plastic bento boxes that should be holding sushi and a can of the La Croiks. Is it La Croiks? I think as I look at the messily painted strawberries on the side and the flavor “fraises”. Wait, it’s French. La Croix.
“You actually drink that stuff?” Oliver asks, crinkling his nose and pointing with a judgemental finger at the can.
“Yeah, is that a problem?” She says snarkily.
“It tastes like someone is sitting near you thinking really hard about what a fruit tastes like but they just can’t get it.”
“Well, I think it’s pretty darn great. I mean, it’s better than plain sparkling water,” she counteracts him with a slight ‘pfft’ and turns to the person behind the table.
He looks at me and whispers, “It pretty much is plain sparkling water.”
They’ve got me curious now, dangit. “Hey, Avril. Grab me one of those things.” Oliver’s face in that next half second is like some huge-puppy-pout-slash-horrified-gaping-mouth of betrayal.
“Sure, what kind?” She picks up a few cans and reads off the names in a fake French accent. “We have peach-pear, coconut, pamplemousse, múre pepino, and everyone’s favorite, pomme bayá.”
“Don’t do it Rory. Don’t frickin’ do it if you know what’s good for you.” Oliver pleads from my side. Deliberate disobedience is my absolute favorite past-time, Ollie. I figured you knew that.
“Do your worst, madame.” I say, my gaze fixed on her.
“Múre pepino it is, then.”
I snag a BLT off the counter for myself and a turkey and cheese for Oliver, pay the person behind the table, and start walking once again. We pass another artisan cheese booth, some burly guy making buffalo jerky, a mini candy store, and a rather interesting looking stand run by a little old guy with a pointy beard. From the looks of it, he’s selling chocolate-covered… I think they’re bugs? The three of us, as if sharing the same brain, all scoot quickly right on past that one.
“Hey, Oliver,” I say as we head up the stairs to where people are sitting and eating. “Out of curiosity, what is the name of that La Croix flavor in English?”
“Thank me later for knowing some French, but that, my dear friend, is blackberry cucumber.”
Oh dear God.
We sit down at one of the square tables near the big, glass window, Oliver’s and my hand having no other option besides dangling down awkwardly underneath one corner of the table, meaning that to sit comfortably, we have to be shoulder to shoulder just like every elementary school music program ever to happen.
“Okay, so.” Avril starts, opening her sandwich box and brandishing the sandwich in one hand. “The clue.” She cracks open the can of La Croix and places it on the table in front of me.
“Oh, yeah! I almost forgot.” Oliver puts down the kolache bag on the table and pulls his phone from his pants pocket. “According to my research, what we’re looking for is definitely not here, even though the Milwaukee metro has like, thirty Qudobas, which is what I’ve based my searches on.” He shows us the google map of the city that is dotted with red pinpoints. “I’ve concluded that it’s at a popular tourist destination because of the ‘everyone knows this place’ thing, and none of these places are very famous out of this state.”
“And the fact that everything else has been at a tourist destination?” I add, chewing some of my sandwich. This is really good. I notice that my other hand is slowly falling asleep as we speak and I can’t do anything to stop it without causing a scene.
“Well, there’s that too.” He nods to me. His phone chimes, and he turns the screen back to himself. “The site.” He opens the notification, and I can see from where I’m sitting that the number of teams is down to fifteen. At the top of the scoreboard, in cyan, sit the words ‘HOME STRETCH’, and underneath, ‘ALL TIMED HUNTS COMPLETED’.
Avril leans over and cranes her neck to see the screen. “It’s close to over, huh?” Her eyes soften a bit. “It’s been fun.”
Oliver takes a passive-aggressive bite of his sandwich. “Not yet, Avril. Not over yet. We’re doing this, whether we win or not.”
“Yeah…” She says, and then hops up from her seat,“Yeah! It isn’t over! We’ve got time! We’re also in first!” She looks down at me, looks away quickly, and then looks back down at me again. Actually, she’s looking in front of me, and it takes me a moment to figure out what she’s looking at. My eyes meet the open can of sparkling water. “Are you gonna drink that?” She asks.
“Yeah. ‘course!” I pick it up, pour some into my mouth, and watch as it all gets spat out onto the table in front of me not even a full second later. “EUGH! THAT’S— HUEUGH! DEAR BABY JESUS YOU ARE NOT WRONG OLIVER!”
“I think I’ll just—” Avril takes the can gingerly from my hand.
“I’ll just stick to coffee, thank you very much.” Ew, ew, ew, ew, ew, ew, quadruple ew to the fifteenth power.
She sips from the can proudly, not bothered in the slightest by the flavor or the inevitable backwash. “Delicious.”
“To each their own,” Oliver says, stuffing the rest of his sandwich in his mouth and pulling one of the Kolaches from the bag. “To each their own.”
Is this it? I think, stuffing in my mouth the rest of the kolache Oliver bought, hoping the sweet, red jelly stuff hasn’t dripped all over me. And was this really a good idea?
“I haven’t been roller skating in for fricken’ ever!” Oliver says, pressing his face up against the car window and gazing out at the nearly windowless building painted with tacky, green diamonds. “We don’t have the time or money to go to G.I. to skate all the time.”
“Nobody has the time or money to go to G.I. all the time anyway, even if you live there,” I add, opening the car door and unbuckling my seat belt. “I wonder what it’d be like to live closer. Like Kearney, maybe. It’d be a lot easier of a drive.”
“Regardless of our distance from Grand Island, guys,” Avril chimes in when she gets out of the car, “This is gonna be— Incredi-roll.” She bends down to look at us and makes jazz hands and does that one eyebrow thing people do when trying to make someone understand a joke. She blows a fallen strand of hair out of her face and rolls her eyes very obviously. “Yeah, I know. Ha ha, super duper clever, Avril, using the business name as a pun! That’s probably what they meant to do, though.”
Oliver opens his door and pulls me with him as he gets out, which totally defeats me opening my door. “It’s fitting for a skating rink, I guess.”
We walk across the faded concrete of the parking lot to the door, and Oliver points out a yellow sign in one window that reads in strangely formatted text: ‘Now Hiring! Ages…. 14 & Up!’.
“Hey, you could work here, Rory." Oliver jokes. "You need a job.” He does some weird shoulder-bump thing in an attempt to elbow my arm, which only ends up making him look like he’s trying to manually dislocate his own shoulder.
“Nah, don’t need it. I have a job.” I take a breath in. “And even if I wanted to work here, would I? Would I really?”
“You have a job?!” The three of us stop in our tracks right outside the door. He sounds genuinely surprised.
My god, Ollie. Where is your head? “Yeah, duh! I’m going on three years at the record store downtown!”
“Which one, Racket’s or Juxtapose?” He seems seriously interested in this even though I’ve talked to him about it only a million times since I started.
“Juxtapose, obviously. Racket’s is for babies.”
“Seriously?” Avril interrupts. “How the heck did you get a job there?! I’ve only been trying to for forever!”
“The owner is a family friend who owed my dad a favor.”
“So it’s a pity job?” She says.
“No, it’s legit.” I reply. “I make twelve an hour! But I only work some weekends and the occasional Friday, so there’s that.”
“That explains all the Starbucks money.” Oliver says to Avril with a snicker.
I grab the door handle and open it so we can go inside and away from this conversation. “My expensive caffeinated beverage obsession is not what we should be focusing on right now. We should be figuring out the clue.”
As we walk through the front of the building, I look down at the aging, patterned carpet that’s characteristic of places like this: places that still have coin-operated Galaga and Street Fighter machines and serve soda in waxed paper Pepsi cups with the logo from my parents’ childhoods (and are probably just as old as they are). “That’s what we’re doing!” Oliver says, trying to do the shoulder thing again as we sit down at one of the yellow booths in the middle of the room. “Change of perspective, change of place, whatever you wanna call it. Getting out and doing stuff might just help us find out where Souhait wants us to go!”
“Y’know what, you’re right!” I admit. “This’ll be cool!”
My only question is how we’re going to skate all stuck together. I’ve seen people online tie shoelaces with one hand, but I’m not nearly as talented.
“This was a great idea.” Avril chimes. “I am a wizard when it comes to rollerskating.”
“Don’t you mean a witch? Since you’re a girl?” Oliver questions.
She rolls her eyes and smiles, “Nobody ever said ‘witch’ meant exclusively female magicians, silly. Boy witches are a thing. They’re mostly female cause historical 'witches' knew medicine and were all around smarter than most everyone. People really didn’t like that. 'specially in Salem." She pulls her lips back into a small grimace at the mention of Salem. "But regardless, witch or wizard, you’ll soon see what I can do. And then you'll have to go to the Ace Hardware across the street."
"Why is that?" I inquire.
"To pick up your socks, because they got knocked off so hard."
Oh my Lanta. Why didn't I see that coming?
We sit our stuff down on the table and head over to the skate rental area, manned by seemingly one person: an annoyingly tall guy, maybe nineteen, with spiky, black hair, eyeliner, and piercings all over his face, buried nose deep in whatever is on his phone screen. This is one reason I wouldn’t work here: edgy kids congregate in places like this, and I am not edgy.
“Hey.” Avril waves a hand to try and get his attention, but he doesn’t move. “Hey!” Both hands this time, but still nothing. I see her squint at the nametag on his uniform shirt. Chris.
“Chris?” She says.
He looks up. “Huh? What?”
“Is this where we rent skates?"
He stands and stares off for a few seconds, as if he’s trying to get that sixth cylinder to fire in his brain so he can understand the question. “Uh, yeah, sure. What size do you need?”
“The rabbit goes around the tree and— Dangit.” Oliver drops the skate laces with a sigh.
“It’s fine.” I reply. “We can just ask Avril to do it for us.”
“No way! That’s super embarrassing, sixteen year olds needing someone to tie their shoes for them!” His face turns noticeably redder even though nothing happened. “Besides, this ‘stuck together’ thing should be close to over by now.”
“Really? It doesn’t feel like it’s been eight hours.”
“You’re right about that.” He says, picking up the laces to try again. “Time flies when you’re having fun! But it does not fly when trying to tie skates with one hand."
I reach over and take one lace out of his hand. "Together we have two free hands."
After a little while, we are able to figure it out, and we have all four skates tied up by the time Avril rolls her way over to the bench where we're sitting. She's wearing white skates with blue wheels and black scuff marks all over the toes.
"Took you long enough." Oliver says when she sits down beside us.
"Well, our little friend Chris obviously can't tell the difference between the numbers nine and ten, because he kept bringing nines over when I needed tens. And we're talking nine in men's shoes." She adjusts the tops of her tall socks in a huff. "It's a big difference."
"At least you got your skates." I add, patting her on the shoulder.
"Yeah, for a minute I thought I'd have to take someone else's when they aren't looking."
As we sit and talk, out of the corner of my eye I see Chris, as luck would have it, step up to the DJ booth and stops the music. Guess he's the only one working tonight He taps on the microphone and speaks in the same bored teenager tone, “Hey everyone, thanks for coming out to Incredi-roll, the Milwaukee Metro’s favorite past-time.” He stops to cough, and then continues. “Today’s a lovely Spring Thursday, so you folks know what that means. Time to throw it back!” The unenthusiastic manner he’s speaking in doesn’t fail to make me laugh. There are a few whoops and some clapping from the people around the building, mostly middle aged mothers and old men in trucker hats and plaid coats who have nowhere else to go to get stadium concession food on a daily basis.
“Here’s a song that’s a 2005 rendition of a 1983 Cindy Lauper classic, and my manager’s favorite song to play here. This is Time After Time by Sugar Ray.” He presses play and, jumping down from the two stairs of the booth, saunters lazily back to the skate rentals.
"Ooh, guys!" Avril says, hopping up from the bench just as the first synthy chord plays from the speakers. "I love this song! Come on!" She motions for us to follow her onto the rink right as she speeds off and then laps a couple of scrawny little kids with PVC pipe walkers. We cautiously edge closer and then step onto the shiny, white floor under the gleam of colored lights and a disco ball.
"How are we going to do this, exactly?" Oliver asks.
"Might I suggest winging it?"
We slowly edge our way along the wall, trying to remember how to do this from the last time we went roller skating together. Avril, sporting a big smile, gracefully sails past us backwards, double loop jumps, and nails the landing before speeding off again. Dang, she is good!
The song is burrowing into my mind, making me feel genuinely happy. I mean, it is a happy song, so I can see why. We get going along a little faster, falling into step--er, glide with each other, and progress towards the center of the rink, closer and closer to the disco ball. Something rises up in my chest, not sure what, but I think it’s the song’s fault. Regardless, right as the downbeat before the chorus plays, I do an about face and grab Oliver’s free hand, and before I can even comprehend what I just got us into, we start spinning like fan blades in a circle
Oliver looks at me, a panicked look on his face. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god Rory how in the world did this happen?” He hisses. I shrug, and he stares, bewildered, for a moment before throwing his head back and laughing, the colorful beams of light dancing around him and falling upon everyone in the rink. “You are crazy! But that’s why I keep you around.” We break out of our spin as the chorus ends. “I can’t be sane all the time.”