‘Steve and Nick’ by Michael Lacare

They sit in the Dodge, Steve and Nick, eating hamburgers and chomping on fries. The engine is running and the radio plays Blondie’s, Out in the Streets.
       Steve is in the driver’s seat, peering down at his food. Next to him, Nick is chewing and staring out the passenger window at the First Federal Bank. An older man with a cane wanders up to the doors and a woman with red hair and a blue dress holds the door open for him. The older man nods at her and slips inside; the woman follows.
       It feels warm in the car, and Steve turns down the AC. He picks out another fry and jams it into his mouth.
       “It’s a good day,” Nick says, eyes still glued to the bank.
       “It is,” Steve says.
       Nick takes the last bite of his burger, crumples up the wrapper. He tosses it into the brown bag the food came in on the floor by his feet.
       The parking lot is nearly vacant except for the employee vehicles and the customers patronizing the adjacent shops. To the right of the bank, a woman in the window of a flower shop is arranging long-stemmed roses in variant colors: yellow, white, red, pink, placing them in equally brilliant vases.
       Nick wonders about the last time he had brought home flowers, not that Sally cared for them. “They’re not my thing,” she’d say and would rather have him bring her cigarettes, and she’d sit at the small wooden table they kept outside their single-wide trailer, gray smoke dancing above her head like drunken ghosts.
       The car reeks of meat and salted fries and stale cigarettes. Nick cracks open the window.
“Hey,” Steve says.
       Nick looks at him.
       “The AC’s on,” Steve says.
       “Yeah. So?”
       Steve swallows the last bit of his fries. Says: “You don’t open the window when the AC is on.”
       “Who says?” Nick takes a sip of his Coke.
       “Everyone knows that,” Steve says, pitching the wrapper at him. It bounces off Nick’s shoulder and lands on the seat. Nick rolls the window back up. “It’ll stay cooler in here,” Steve adds.
       The Blondie song ends and The Who is singing about My Generation.
       Nick says, “What day is it?”
       “Thursday,” Steve says. “Why?”
       Nick shrugs. “Feels like a Friday.”
       Steve thinks it feels like a Thursday because on Fridays he’s usually at McCallister’s about now, shooting pool and tipping back a cold one, while he tries to score with Donna, one of the servers, but ends up scoring with Lacy instead. She’s older than Donna by a decade. She has long black hair with streaks of gray in it, and prominent lines that bracket her mouth like parentheses. She lets him pinch her nipples and stick his tongue in her mouth. He can taste the chicken with barbecue she’d had for dinner. They do it in Steve’s Dodge like horny teenagers, and when they are done, Steve pulls away from McCallister’s before Lacy has a chance to get back to her car.
       “Sally’s pregnant,” Nick says matter-of-factly.
       Steve glances at him but doesn’t say a word.
       “We’re going to be parents,” Nick says.
       Steve turns and looks through the windshield. A mother pushes a stroller up and over the curb of the sidewalk. She’s young and pretty, hair tied back away from her face in a ponytail. It bounces against the spot between her shoulder blades.
       Steve thinks to himself: How will they ever manage a baby? They can barely take care of themselves half the time, what with all the arguing and fighting and Sally calling the cops on Nick, and Nick always between jobs because God forbid, he keeps one for more than a month.
       “Happy for you,” Steve finally says.
       Nick nods his head. “She’s pretty excited.”
       Steve can picture her sitting in front of the trailer, barefoot, the bottoms of her feet black from walking back and forth on the dirt road that leads from their mobile home and the cluster of faded mailboxes at the entrance of the park.
       Nick glances at his watch. It’s two in the afternoon. “Beau,” he says.
       Steve looks at him.
       “That’s his name,” Nick adds, “if it’s a boy.”
       Steve wonders which of them came up with the name. “What if it’s a girl?” Steve asks.
       Nick says, “She wants Doreen, but I’m partial to Michelle.”
       Steve nods once and looks out the window again. “It takes a lot of money to raise a kid nowadays,” Steve says, letting the words sink in.
       “Tell me about it,” Nick says.
       All that formula and diapers and insurance and clothing and saving for college Steve wants to say but doesn’t. You’d have to be a goddamned Jeff Bezos to afford it. He doesn’t know how these people do it, some with two, three, four children, in fact.
       The older man with the cane exits the bank. He walks past the shops and disappears around the corner.
       Nick fires up a cigarette, cracks open the window again, blows the smoke out. “We hittin’ McCallister’s tonight?”
       Steve thinks about it. He thinks about Donna and Lacy and if returning to this town after his release was the right thing to do because not much has changed, that’s for sure. Not in twelve years. The people are the same, all doing the very same things. No one lives here, he thinks to himself. They just exist.
       “Aren’t you tired?” Steve asks.
       Nick glances at him. He’s not sure what to say.
       “Of all this?” Steve adds.
       Then it dawns on him what Steve means. “Yeah, of course I am.” Nick exhales the smoke. There are three cigarettes remaining. He will bring them to Sally, even though he’d prefer to smoke them all now, one after the other.
       “You really want that baby?” Steve says, and this catches Nick off guard. He shifts in his seat, turning in Steve’s direction. “What do you mean?”
       Steve shakes his head. “It’s a life changing event. Is it what you really want?”
       Nick thinks about what Steve says, his eyes focused on the worn leather seats. He tosses his cigarette out the window.
       “I thought about it,” Nick says.
       Nick’s eyes meet Steve’s. “I want it.”
       “OK,” Steve says.
       “I love her, you know,” Nick says.
       Steve hesitates, then says: “I know.”
       “I’m not saying I ain’t scared though,” Nick says, that wry smile beginning to form at the corner of his mouth that Steve knows so well.
       Steve nods, cuts the engine off. He removes the keys from the ignition. In a few minutes, the vehicle will get warm again.
       Nick takes a final look at the flower shop. The woman in the window is gone. He thinks about bringing Sally home roses, after all.
       “You ready?” Steve says.
       Nick nods, and they climb out of the Dodge together. Steve walks back to the trunk. He pulls out two ski masks, hands one to Nick. Steve reaches inside again and hands Nick a Mossberg 500 Tactical shotgun. It feels heavy in his hands. Steve grabs a Desert Eagle .50 Caliber handgun, shoves into the front waistband, and pulls his shirt over it. He slams the trunk lid closed.
       They exchange a look. Nick takes a deep breath, slowly lets it out. Nick looks at his watch again. Sally would be outside their trailer by now, hanging the day’s linen on the line, and as they approach the bank, Nick thinks to himself that maybe the name Doreen isn’t so bad.

Michael Lacare has been published in numerous literary magazines as well as nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He currently lives in Florida with his wife, where he is at work on a novel. Follow him on Twitter.

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