We should have a practice honeymoon,” LeAnn said into the full-length mirror. “A week at the beach would be perfect.” She stood with her back to me, naked except for the new see through panties. “I want my marriage to be perfect this go-round.” She lifted her chin, tossed back her shoulders, drew an expansive breath, held it, then cut her eyes my way. “Or not,” she said. She turned, offering me a full-frontal. “Can you picture my tan lines, Marion?” I could. But July 4th is a big week in the wrecker business.
“Not a good time,” I said. She swiveled this way and that, admiring her panty purchase, then ran her eyes up the length of me. “I’ll talk to the mongoose about that,” she said to the mirror, nodding a big uh-huh.
It was a bad one, I-95 between Santee and Florence. A long stretch of nothing. I know it well. My friend Zack calls it “Lullaby Lane,” on account of the number of drivers who fall asleep at the wheel. He and his partner Brooke are EMS. Brooke and I were Biology Lab partners in high school.
Traffic had come to a stop, at least a mile long in the northbound. I took the emergency lane as the gawking motorists crept ahead. You could see the carnival lights, their colors like a canopy under the night sky. I parked in the median. Troopers, firetrucks. Jaws of life? Not. Outside their unit, Zack and Brooke waited for the traffic to clear. The deceased, a man and the only passenger Brooke claimed. But Zack took exception.
“The only thing for sure,” Brooke said, “is that he or she was from Florida. The tags are about the only thing left.”
“You don’t even know that,” Zack said. “You can’t say that with total certainty. Could be a rental.”
“Oh, Jesus,” Brooke said to me wagging her head from side to side. She looked at Zack. “Screw you and your rental.” She turned. “He’s being his pissy self again,” she said.
“You don’t know,” Zack said. He gestured and spoke to me like I was an umpire and he was contesting a call. “After seven years—.”
“Would you just let it go?” Brooke said. “Jezzzzzus.”
“Hey,” I said, looking from one to the other. “How y’all doin’? Lovely night, huh?”
“Okay,” Zack said. He turned to Brooke. “Marion will be the judge. Here’s the situation.”
“Hey, Marion, sweetheart,” Brooke said. “Do I get an invitation to your wedding?”
Zack said, “After seven years you think you know somebody. You save lives together, you share things you could never share, even with your wife. You think you know them.”
“Don’t buy this Zack-the-sentimental-act,” she said to me. “He’s workin’ you.”
“Okay,” Zack said to her. “You tell it.”
“There ain’t no it.”
“We get a call a couple of hours ago—.”
“Here it comes,” she said, “Zack, the Moral Majority.”
“Hardee’s drive-thru in Darlington,” he said. “Man, mid-fifties, heart attack. He’s got his food, his Diet Coke. He’s taking a good hard pull on the straw in his soda. Before he can shift into drive, wham, hits him like a damned jackhammer. Then, listen to this shit, Marion. Brooke steals the guy’s Hardee’s Meal Deal order.”
“I stole nothing.”
“You sure as hell didn’t pay for it.”
“Regifting,” Brooke said to me.
“You ate the guy’s goddamn supper.” Zack looked at me. “Who is this person, Marion?”
“Listen to this, Marion,” she said. “Deal of a lifetime. You get a double cheeseburger, hot dog, fries, drink—and an apple pie for something like five bucks. Can’t beat it for the price.”
“She never had a second thought, Marion. Just tore the paper off that burger and went to town before she even had the siren on. I’m in the back, giving chest compressions. Damn,” he said. He started down the embankment into the shadows. “I got to take a whiz.”
Brooke called to him, “I offered to share.” Then she turned, brought her eyes up to mine. “How about you? You having second thoughts?”
“About what?” I said.
“You know what. I know you, Marion, the length and width of every square inch of you. It’s not that LeAnn’s got your heart. It’s your kidney she’s got, ain’t it?”
Two troopers directed traffic as the fire trucks and EMS pulled away and I winched up what was left of the BMW. I was northbound when my cell rang—again, but I didn’t answer. LeAnn. Her third call. The first was to say, “Imagine Myrtle Beach, Marion. I’m naked, getting in the shower now.” The second to say, “I’m out of the shower now, Marion, naked. I can hear the surf.” This one to say, “I’m going to b-e-d now. There’s going to be some practice honeymoon sex happening here. If you want to get in on it, you better hustle on over.”
When we were in high school, there was this group of us. You know the story. Maybe you grew up watching the TV show Happy Days like we did. Each of us had our role. She and my football teammate Pete Hump were a couple. I was her go-to guy on the show. They’d fight, she’d come running to me, sometimes not fully dressed, etcetera. They married. She ran around. He drank. She ran around more. He drank more. Somewhere in there she was diagnosed with kidney disease. They divorced. She came running to me, sometimes not fully dressed. She needed a donor. I gave her a kidney.