“What did I tell you about being late again this week?” Wendy yelled from somewhere in the back of the store.
“Shut up, woman, you couldn’t last a day without me working here.”
“You watch your mouth, kid, I could replace you in a heartbeat. There are plenty of little brats running around this town who want to make the money you make from me.”
Tamara rolled her eyes as she set her old, torn bag down on the counter and pulled out her nametag. She pinned it on crooked, but shrugged and started scrolling on her phone, leaning her elbows on the counter. When she first started working at the store, hated how cluttered it was. It made her anxious. There was stuff everywhere. The counter barely had any room for customers to pile their items, and they were always knocking things off it.
The counter was made from wood that was so distressed that Tamara got at least one splinter every shift. She begged Wendy to replace it, but Wendy said she didn’t have the budget for it, that there were more important things that needed fixing. Tamara suggested that she get rid of some of the products that no one ever buys, and then she could buy a new counter. Wendy said maybe, but it never happened.
Wendy was still rustling around in the back when Randy, Ollie and Vicky walked in, the bell above the door jingling as each of them pushed through it.
“Hey, bitch, you coming out tonight?” Vicky asked, strutting up to the counter.
“Where?” Tamara asked, only flashing her eyes up from her phone briefly to look at her friends.
“Cruisin’. There might be a bush party. Either way I’m getting fuuuuucked,” Ollie laughed, his eyes squinting shut. He drifted away down the aisles when Randy slapped Vicky’s ass. She turned around to glare at him.
“Randy, you know I don’t like when you do that in public. It’s trashy.”
“We ain’t in public, it’s just Tammy. Hey, where’s the old hag?” Randy said, much too loud.
“Shh, she’s doing something in the back. You guys better not steal shit this time. She flipped out on me last time and I had to pay for it.”
“What the fuck ever, she’s not gonna do nothing about it. She’s so fuckin’ old.”
Tamara rolled her eyes, her heart beating fast with anger.
“Yo, Tam!” Ollie called from somewhere near the back of the store.
“You gonna hook me up with some smokes again?”
“Only if you be quiet about it, damn.”
Ollie emerged from the mass of products and was smiling his signature squinty-eyed smile.
“C’mon, Tam-Tam,” he said, winking and leaning in close to her so she could smell his cheap cologne. Tamara’s heart jumped and her face flushed but she rolled her eyes.
“Okay, but you gotta at least pay this time. And be cool about it ‘cause Wendy could come back any second, I don’t know what she’s doing back there.”
“Jesus, you’re such a fucking nag. You sound like my mom when she bitches at my dad all the time.”
He grabbed the pack of smokes from her hands before she could put it down on the counter.
“Light?” he asked, already opening the pack and shoving one into his mouth.
Tamara slapped a tiny lighter on the counter and he grabbed it, putting it up to the smoke.
“Ollie! You ca-”
“I’m leaving, I’m leaving, Jesus fucking Christ.”
Randy and Vicky were trailing behind him, Randy shoving gum and candy into his pockets as they were leaving. Vicky was chewing gum, blowing obnoxious bubbles.
“So, we’ll pick you up after work?” she asked.
“Sure. I’m done at nine.”
“You gonna finally hook up with Ollie tonight?” she asked, glancing outside where he was throwing rocks from the gravel parking lot at Randy, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, eyes squinted shut in laughter. Tamara looked over too.
“What are you talking about?”
“There’s totally a vibe there, he definitely wants to fuck.”
“What? Now way, he compared me to his mom!”
“Yeah, he’s fucked up like that, he probably gets off on that so hard.”
“That’s so fucking weird.”
“Yeah, well. You’re pretty fucking weird, too. I wouldn’t be too picky if I were you.”
Tamara clenched her jaw, looking at her feet.
“Take it easy, I’m just kidding, god. Learn to take a joke, Tamara. Ollie likes chicks who are chill. All guys do.”
She pushed her way out the door and ran full speed at Randy, who was facing the other way, and jumped on his back. He piggy-backed her to his truck and they all got in and he fishtailed out of the lot, kicking up a cloud of dust.
“They gone?” Wendy’s voice was coming toward Tamara, but she couldn’t see her. The top of Wendy’s head finally made an appearance.
“Yeah, sorry,” Tamara muttered.
“It’s not your fault your friends are assholes, kid. You should probably find new friends, though.” Wendy was at the counter now, standing in front of Tamara like a customer. She haphazardly arranged some hanging fruit gummies that were a little too far out of her short reach.
“They’re not so bad, they just think they’re real cool. They’re harmless.”
“If you say so. I’d watch my back, is all I’m saying.”
“What do you mean? Yeah, they steal candy and drink and smoke, but so does everyone. I’ve known them my whole life. We were babies together and shit.”
Wendy lifted her hands as if in surrender, saying nothing.
“Besides, who else am I gonna be friends with in this shithole town?”
Tamara locked the doors to the store, double checked them, and waited for Randy’s truck to come screeching into the lot. It was mid-September, so the evenings were getting pretty cold, and Tamara’s old, thin sweater wasn’t warm enough. She checked her phone. 9:12.
“God damnit,” she muttered to herself. She typed out a text to Vicky:
Vic, wtf where r u guys I’m freezing.
She crossed her arms and jiggled her legs to keep warm. Her phone buzzed.
On way. Boys had to pick up.
Tamara’s stomach turned. She hated when they did drugs. They were always so obnoxious—even more than usual. Finally, the truck came squealing into the lot. Randy drove full speed toward Tamara, blinding her with the headlights and then slammed on the breaks, but late enough that Tamara jumped out of the way. She swore at Randy as she hopped into the back with Vicky. She was immediately hit in the face with the smell of alcohol.
“You’re so obnoxious, Randy,” Tamara said.
“God, can’t you take a joke?”
“Yeah, almost hitting me with your car is fucking hilarious.”
Randy looked at Ollie, who was riding shotgun, and they burst into laughter, the truck swerving. Ollie pulled a mickey out from his backpack and took a big swig. He passed it to Randy who took an even bigger swig. Randy handed it back to Vicky and she took it, looking at the contents.
“Jesus, Randy, take it easy.” Vicky said, passing it right to Tamara without taking a sip. “Here, you need this more than I do, I think.”
Tamara inspected the brown liquid.
“Tam, if you don’t drink that right now, I’m going to rip it out of your hands and drink it myself,” Randy said, speaking to her through the rear-view mirror. His eyes were glazed, and he was swerving into the middle of the highway.
“Okay, I’m drinking it. Just watch the road! I don’t feel like dying today.” She put the wet mouth of the bottle to her lips and tipped it back. She tried to conceal her look of disgust, but Ollie was staring at her.
“Pussy,” he said, smiling that squinty-eyed smile.
“Am not,” Tamara said, giggling.
“You’re right, that was actually pretty impressive. I think that was even more than Randy had.”
Vicky, Ollie and Tamara laughed. Randy kept his eyes on the road, silent for once.
Randy parked the truck too far away when they got there. He refused to admit he messed up, saying he did it on purpose so if the cops came they’d have a safe getaway car.
“You’re full of shit, man!” Ollie laughed, stumbling. He and Randy had each done a line of cocaine off the dashboard in the truck and were both clearly messed up.
Vicky and Tamara walked a few paces behind the boys. Vicky hooked her arm through Tamara’s.
“Ollie said he wants to hook up with you tonight,” Vicky whispered to Tamara.
“What? When?” Tamara could tell she was starting to get drunk, her vision slightly blurry. Vicky had pulled out a bottle of cheap wine that she’d stolen from her mom.
“On our way to get you from the store.”
“What did he say he wants to do?”
“He didn’t really, but he’s probably telling Randy right now.”
Tamara could hear faint voices coming from the bush. Vicky pulled her arm from Tamara’s and ran up behind Randy and linked arms with him. Ollie didn’t wait for Tamara to catch up, so she stayed behind awkwardly and they all walked into the dark bush. There were people everywhere, and they all seemed completely wasted.
Two girls holding hands smashed into Tamara’s shoulder as she was trying to get by them. “Watch it!” they both yelled at the same time. By the time Tamara had gotten out of their way, she realized she’d lost Vicky and the boys already. She tried to catch up to them, but she didn’t know which way they went and couldn’t see in the dark. She wandered around for what seemed like forever, growing more and more frustrated.
“Hey, you’re the girl who works at the corner store!” an unfamiliar voice called out as Tamara was trying to get by a group of guys. She stopped and squinted into the darkness, trying to make out faces.
“Uh, yeah, that’s me. Sorry, I can’t see anything, who is that?”
“Santa. Merry Christmas,” another voice said, and a hand reached out to pass her a bottle of something.
“What is it?” Tamara asked, smelling it.”
“Magic,” the first voice answered. “Drink up, Corner Store.”
Tamara thought about Vicky, Randy and Ollie, who had ditched her immediately, and about what Wendy had said about them. Tamara looked at the bottle for another moment and downed the contents, coughing from the strength of it.
“Hey, so what’s the deal with that old lady that owns that store?” another voice asked.
“What do you mean?” Tamara asked, not sure where to direct her question.
“She’s fucking nuts,” the first voice laughed.
“Yeah she looks like an inbred witch.”
“Totally! Oh my god that’s perfect.”
“She’s actually a really nice lady,” Tamara said.
The group was silent for a moment, and then burst into hysterical laughter.
Tamara felt her face flush hot, and she wished she could sink herself into the damp, mossy earth and disappear forever. Just when she started to try to break free from the crowd she heard a familiar voice from behind her.
“Tam-Tam!” Ollie yelled, stumbling toward her. She stepped away from the mystery group and walked to him. “Here, drink this,” Ollie said, handing over a mickey with the label torn off. Whatever was inside was brown.
“What is it?” she asked, not waiting for the answer before taking a swig. She immediately felt like she was going to puke.
“I told you she could drink!” Ollie shouted back at the people Tamara didn’t recognize. Her heart fluttered, and her mouth filled with saliva as she fought the urge to throw up.
“What was that? It was nasty,” Tamara managed to say as Ollie hung an arm over her shoulder, pushing the side of his body into hers, guiding her away from the group.
“A little bit of everything from my mom’s liquor cabinet,” Ollie said. “Just enough from each bottle so that she won’t notice any is missing.”
“That’s exactly what it tasted like,” Tamara said. Ollie was swaying side to side, trying to keep his balance while leaning on Tamara and simultaneously guiding her farther away from the crowds of people. Suddenly she felt very dizzy. She wanted Ollie to stop swaying her, it was making it worse.
“Hey, you wanna go sit somewhere?” Ollie whispered into her ear, his breath hot and sticky. Goosebumps ran along Tamara’s body and she nodded.
He led her deeper into the bush, away from the party, and lay down his sweater for her to sit on. Tamara felt the trees spinning around her as Ollie awkwardly put his hot hand on her knee. He was telling her something, but she felt like her ears were plugged—like when she got water stuck in them after swimming as a kid.
Tamara closed her eyes to stop the spinning and opened her mouth to say something to Ollie. Before she could make a sound, his mouth was crashing into hers, and he was opening and closing his mouth frantically like a fish. Tamara felt a rush of nausea as the excitement met with the liquor in her stomach and she tried to pull away from Ollie. He was hovering over her, pushing her slowly to the ground.
“Ollie wait,” Tamara said as he pecked at her mouth.
“What’s up Tam-Tam?” he asked sleepily, eyes closed.
“I just think I’m a bit too drunk. Can we pause for a second?”
“You can’t be too drunk, you’re the queen of holding your liquor,” he said, smiling and leaning in to kiss her again, his teeth bashing into hers. He put a hand on her breast and squeezed too tight.
“Ollie wait, seriously,” Tamara said, trying to push him off her. He pulled back a little, opening his eyes.
“Don’t be a tease, now, Tam-Tam,” Ollie said, his smile wavering.
“I’m not, I just need a second, I promise.” She looked him in the eye for a moment before he let her sit up. She took several deep breaths, trying to think about something neutral to calm her nerves and distract herself from thinking about the nausea. Ollie watched her but said nothing. He sighed loudly.
“I think that kitchen sink drink really fucked me up.”
“Okay, Tamara, are we hooking up or not, because I could go find another girl in a second who will.”
“No! I want to, Ollie, just maybe in a few minutes when I don’t feel so sick.” Tamara felt like she was getting more drunk, not less. She was fighting with her eyes to focus. She squeezed them shut, and suddenly Ollie was on top of her again.
“C’mon Tam-Tam, you’ll be okay. Don’t leave me with blue balls,” he said, groping her even harder than before, pressing himself into her so hard it hurt.
Tamara suddenly realized how far the rest of the party was. Where the fuck was Vicky? Why wasn’t she checking on her? Tamara felt like Ollie weighed a thousand pounds, squishing her body into the earth. She squeezed her eyes shut, wishing for a stray partier to come stumbling over, looking for a place to pee so they’d be caught and forced to stop.
No one came to rescue her, and finally, Ollie was finished. He zipped up his pants while Tamara lay on the floor, the sky and trees spinning above.
“Hey, we should probably not walk back over there together,” Ollie said.
Tamara lifted a hand to her forehead and tried to respond but could barely manage to form a single word. Her arm was heavy, and she closed her eyes, letting the back of her hand press into her eyeballs.
“Can you pass me my sweater, its fucking cold,” Ollie said, pointing to the sweater under her back. Tamara didn’t answer but tried to reach for the sweater under her body.
“Okay, whatever, give it back to me later.” Ollie said as Tamara heard his footsteps crunching leaves farther and farther into the distance.
Tamara tried to open her eyes but couldn’t.
“What the fuck, Ollie, what did you do?” Vicky’s voice.
“Nothing, I swear! She was totally fine when we were hooking up.” Ollie.
“Okay guys, let’s hurry the fuck up, I wanna go to bed.” Randy.
Tamara opened her eyes and saw a flash of light. Vicky was holding her phone with the flashlight on, looking around.
“Oh, sick, I think I stepped in puke!” Randy yelled.
Tamara felt her mouth fill with saliva, and she turned limply to the side and puked.
“Oh fuck, gross! If I see someone puke it makes me puke,” Ollie yelled, gagging.
“She is completely fucked, Ollie!” Vicky yelled back.
“It’s not my fault she’s a lightweight! The other chicks didn’t react like this.”
“Okay, we have to carry her to the truck, help me.”
Tamara felt herself being hoisted off the ground. She tried to stand but couldn’t figure out how to get the right parts of her body to move in the right way. She knew she was being carried but couldn’t tell by who or where. She felt herself being placed down on a soft surface and could hear muffled voices in the distance.
When Tamara opened her eyes again, she was in a strange bed in a room she didn’t recognize. She lifted her head and looked around, trying to process her surroundings. There was a glass of water on the concrete floor and a small garbage can next to the bed. The blanket was woolly, scratchy and thin. She tossed the blanket away from her body that was slick with cold sweat. She swept her body sideways, planting her feet on the cold floor.
She took a deep breath and stood up, but the blood rushed to her head too fast and she sat back down with a thump. She groaned and rubbed her eyes with her hands as the door to the room opened. Wendy burst in with a bottle of Gatorade and some pills in her palm.
“Good, you’re awake,” she said as she hobbled over.
“What’s going on?” Tamara asked as she took the Gatorade and downed the pills in one gulp, not asking what they were.
“Those are coming out of your paycheck, by the way,” Wendy said, sitting on the hard bed next to her.
“What is this room?” Tamara asked.
“You were in rough shape last night, kid. I’ve never seen something like that before,” Wendy continued, ignoring Tamara’s questions.
Tamara squeezed her eyes shut, trying to remember the night before.
“I have no idea what happened,” Tamara said.
“It’s okay. You’re okay, that’s all that matters.”
“Am I though? Where the fuck am I and how did I get here? Why don’t I remember anything about last night?”
Wendy shrugged, locking eyes with Tamara.
“Please tell me what happened,” Tamara pleaded.
“I really don’t know much more than you, except that you called me at four in the morning, completely hysterical and incoherent. I found you on your front lawn in a pile of your own puke. Then I brought you here. It’s the spare room that I used to sleep in when I had to sell my house to keep this store afloat.”
“You found me on my front lawn?”
“Those fucking assholes,” Tamara whispered.
“That’s what I’ve been telling you,” Wendy said, heaving herself off the bed, which was much too low for her. “Your shift starts in 20 minutes. Better wash up, you’ve got puke in your hair.”
Tamara was staring at a water stain on the ceiling, trying to distract herself from the worst hangover she’d ever had, when Vicky came through the door of the store. They made eye contact and Vicky walked up to the counter, but neither of them spoke.
“You okay?” Vicky finally asked.
“Yeah, no thanks to you,” Tamara retorted.
“You left me to fucking die on my front lawn.”
“We were doing you a favour! Your dad would have kicked your ass if you’d gone home as fucked up as you were last night.”
“How is leaving me outside while I was puking my guts out the better choice?” Tamara was yelling now.
“You are so ungrateful. Next time you get fucked up I’ll just let you go home to your dad then if that’s what you want. Ollie’s right about you.”
“What the fuck did Ollie say about me?”
“He told me what happened with you two. How you lured him into the woods to hook up and then when he wanted to stop you forced him to fuck you. You’re so fucking desperate, it’s sad.”
Tamara stared at her, trying to remember what happened with Ollie. She remembered him giving her his disgusting drink, but she couldn’t remember what happened after that. She forced herself to picture herself forcing Ollie to do anything, and she couldn’t. Tears started welling in her eyes.
“That’s not what happened.” Her voice pinched in the back of her throat and the tears started rolling down her cheeks. She wiped them away furiously, but they just kept coming.
“Oh my god, you’re so dramatic,” Vicky said before turning on her heels and storming out the door, the bell ringing loudly as the door slammed against the wall and then shut. Tamara stared at the door, shocked. Wendy silently appeared from the abyss of aisles and Tamara almost didn’t notice her sidle up next to her and put her hand on her back.
“What is wrong with me?” Tamara asked Wendy through tear-blurred vision.
“Not a thing, kid. Life has a way of kicking your ass even when you don’t deserve it. Trust me.”
“I wish I didn’t care what they thought of me.”
“But you do.”
“Why do I?”
Wendy shrugged. “You’re human.”
Tamara’s eyes finally started to dry up and she wiped her nose on her sleeve. She sighed deeply, and Wendy patted her on the back before glancing at the store window. Tamara followed her gaze to find Ollie standing in the parking lot, smoking. Tamara whipped her head around to look at Wendy, eyes wide.
Wendy shook her head and started slowly waddling away. Tamara watched Ollie through the window. It looked like he was staring right at her, but he probably could only see his reflection in the window. He butted out his smoke and came into the store. He walked around the aisles a few times, avoiding eye contact with Tamara, who was staring at him. She searched his face for clues to piece together her night, but nothing revealed itself.
He finally walked up to the counter, placing a chocolate bar on it. He looked at Tamara in the eye. Her stomach jumped.
“So, you’re actually going to pay for that?” she asked.
Ollie snorted and then smiled, eyes crinkling. “Yeah.”
“Hey, I’m sorry for getting so drunk,” Tamara said, darting her eyes toward the front window.
“I don’t think it was your fault,” Ollie replied.
“I don’t know. But Vicky told me what happened, and I don’t know how much of it is true, but…” Tamara trailed off, waiting for him to interject.
Tamara didn’t say anything else, and Ollie started reaching for his wallet to pay for the chocolate bar.
“Vicky’s kind of a bitch,” he said.
Tamara laughed. “Yeah she kinda is.”
Ollie paid for his chocolate bar and shoved it into his backpack, but he lingered. “So uh, if you’re not too hungover later, Randy and I are going cruising.”
Tamara tried not to let the feeling of disgust register on her face.
“Vicky isn’t coming. She and Randy are fighting again,” he said.
“Okay,” she answered.
“Okay, you’ll come?” Ollie asked.
As Ollie left, the door of the corner store jingled shut.