How do you pick up a Goth girl? With your knees, not your back. She tried to remember who told her that as she braced herself, took a deep breath, gripped the handles and pushed with arms, back and knees. But the goddamn wheel spun again before the stupid nut even budged.
She yanked the tire iron off the wheel and threw it to the ground. It bounced off the tarmac and whacked her in the shin, and then she was hopping around on one foot, shouting curses that echoed off the high-rise townhomes all down Juniper that made this part of Atlanta look nothing like it had when she was little. She composed herself, put the wrench end on the nut again, grabbed the crossbars. One phone call would get her a ride home and a tire fixed for free, but making that call was the last thing she was going to do. She looked down at the nut stuck in the wrench, started to push, real evenly.
But the wheel spun once again. “Goddamn it!” she shouted, so loud it hurt her throat. She double-checked. The emergency brake was on, so why the fuck was the wheel still turning?
“Hey,” said a voice from behind her. She whirled. Light hair, blandly handsome, too old anyway.
She brandished the tire iron at him. “I’m fine.”
He held up both hands. “I mean you no harm.” His car was one of those electric ones that were totally silent.
She heard her mom’s voice in her head. Those are the worst kind. “Yeah, right.”
He just smiled. “First time you’ve changed a tire, right?” He pointed at the wheel “It’s counterintuitive.”
“What the fuck?” But she lowered the iron a little.
“If you’ve never changed a tire, you think jack it up, then take the nuts off. It seems to make sense. I’m just lucky my mom was with me the first time I had to do it. Here,” and then he started to open the door.
She slammed it back shut with her foot, got the end of the tire iron right up in front of the guy’s nose. “Stay in the fucking car!” Three years of fencing lessons.
Both palms again. “Sorry. Just trying to help.” He pointed beyond her. “If the wheel’s down, then the weight of the car will keep it from spinning. Then jack it up and take it off.”
She looked back at the wheel, and only then remembered to take a big step backward. Duh. Four years of kung fu. “Oh. Right.” She dropped the tire iron to her side. “Oh, duh, of course.”
“No, not of course. That’s what I meant: it’s counterintuitive. Everyone does it.”
She spun the jack all the way down, put the wrench back on the nut, crouched down, braced herself, pushed. Nothing.
“Stomp on it,” said the guy. She stood up and raised her foot. “No, the other side. Left foot.” Now that worked. “Can I get the spare out of the trunk for you?”
She stomped on the second one, then the third, then reached in and popped the trunk. Just as she put the last one on top of the others in a neat little stack next to the hubcap, she heard him say, “Oh, dear.”
“Oh, dear what?”
His shadow loomed from behind the trunk. “Your car isn’t going anywhere tonight.” He held the spare out to her, where she could see the long, straight tear in the rubber.
“I’m so sorry.” He put the spare down between them. “Do you want me to phone for a taxi?”
“No. I’ll just… call my mom. Fuck.”
“You’d rather not?”
“No way. Look: I live about a mile from here. This neighborhood is way safer than it used to be, but–”
“Of course. Hop in.”
She grabbed her bag, went around the car, got in the passenger side. “Go around and up Piedmont. Hi.” She held out a greasy hand. “I’m Grace.”
He reached out, saw the grime, drew back. “Sorry. David Mayer. Sorry about your type.”
“I’ll be all right. Not the worst thing that happened to me tonight. I was on a date? Second date with this guy. I was thinking there’s a little chemistry, and then he asks like out of the blue over our salads if I do anal. I mean what the fuck, right?”
“Er. Do what?”
“Like anal sex. Right? That’s how my face looked. And let’s be clear here, my profile doesn’t have any sex stuff on it.”
“Well, that’s good. You’re not looking for sex.”
“Of course I’m looking for sex. But I want it with someone who doesn’t just watch porn all time. Yeah; sure. At least someone who knows the difference between porn chicks and real chicks. My profile’s all about looking for a guy I actually have fun with. As in, out of bed. More of a friends-with-benefits thing.”
“As in, not a boyfriend.”
“Oh. Oh, I see. You want the sex, but not the commitment.”
“The sex and the friendship. But once he asked me that–”
“You stormed out, to find your car had a flat tire? I’m so sorry.” He fiddled with something beneath his seat while they were stopped at Tenth. Then, “That’s a video camera in your bag, there?”
“Yeah. I make films. Documentaries. What do you do, David Mayer?”
“Well, I have a regular old job that pays the bills. But whenever I find the time, I come alive with art.”
“Oh, yeah? What kind? Photography, right? You’re all neat and tidy.”
“No, these are just work clothes. I do a… mixed-media thing. You’d be welcome to film it, but really, if it were to be at all accurate, it would be dreadfully boring.”
“You’d be surprised what turns out to be interesting on film. Turn left up there, at the light.”
“Hours and hours of me staring at things, waiting for inspiration. You live back here? This is a beautiful neighborhood.”
“Yeah. I live with my mom. At least she’s not home right now. I know, I should go get my own place. But then she’d be all up in my grill, cos she’s lonely. Married to her job. Thought she was going to get engaged a couple of years ago, but no…”
“Give her time. What’s the job, that she’s married to?”
“She’s a cop. Well, no: she’s Super Cop Mom.”
His eyebrows were all the way up. “Really?”
“Maybe it’s Super Mom Cop. Whatever. She’s a homicide detective. Solves all the wacky murders. You watch the local news? She was up there talking about–”
“Oh, I saw her. Blonde, quite pretty? That’s your mother?” They both realized the car had drifted to a stop. He shook his head back and forth, fiddled under the seat again, got the car moving. “Wow. That’s neat. And they’re all trying to catch the Reaper before someone else ends up… well, let’s not speak of it, here.”
“It’s not him,” said Grace. “There: that one, with the purple Halloween lights.”
“Not the Reaper.” As he pulled to a stop, she hefted her bag, then opened the door. “Thanks for the ride.”
“It’s no problem. How does she know? That it’s not the Reaper?”
She poked her head back into the window, tapped her forehead. “Supercop intuition. I never get to learn details. But she could tell I knew she thought it was bullshit. She said the real Reaper would have done a way better job. This guy’s sloppy. See ya.” She walked up to the house, fishing in her bag for the keys. He waited until she got the door open, then flashed his headlights twice and receded silently into the night.