Frances waited in the car while Alan ducked into the 99 Cents Only store to get glue. This part of town was populated with half-abandoned strip malls. The 99 Cents Only store was next to what appeared to be a vacant suite. The door was open, though, and there were weights and blue mats strewn about. Frances squinted and saw three shirtless men near the back of the room. Two were rubbing something on their arms and the other was doing push ups. Frances sunk further into her seat, growing impatient.
A woman and a small girl rode up to the store on bicycles. They locked them to a handicapped parking sign and disappeared into the store. The girl did not remove her helmet. Seconds later, a man on a bicycle rode up and parked his bike near the entrance. He removed his backpack and pulled out three white balls. There were more in his bag, packaged in plastic-wrapped sets of three. He looked around anxiously as he carefully balanced two packages on the handlebars of his bike, then paced back and forth a bit, breathing deeply. Frances pretended to do something on her phone, but watched the man closely. He started juggling the balls. Frances furrowed her brow. She watched the man as she dialed Alan’s number. The man was very well-prepared, but he was not a very skilled juggler. Each time he would drop a ball, he would scamper after it, embarrassed, trying to feign composure, his eyes darting around nervously.
“Alan, can you finish up? What’s taking so long?
Just – don’t worry about it then. Just come back.
There’s a man out here.
No, he just started juggling.
I don’t know, just come back please.”
The woman and the girl emerged from the store, each carrying a plastic 99 Cents Only bag. The woman glanced at the man with the balls and knelt down to re-fasten the girl’s knee pads. The man continued to juggle, glancing earnestly at the woman. Just then, his bike shifted and the packages he had placed on the handlebars clattered to the sidewalk. He dropped his balls in a panic and paused, red with shame, as they escaped into the parking lot, bouncing pell-mell among the parked cars. As he scrambled after them, Alan shuffled out of the store, past the woman and the girl, shot a puzzled look at Frances through the windshield, and slumped into the car. The woman and the girl pedaled off.
“I don’t know, Alan. This guy – there he is . . .“
The man stepped back onto the sidewalk, looking around, gingerly rubbing his balls on his shirt. He trembled as he repositioned his bike and replaced the two packages.
The man crouched over his backpack and pulled out a water bottle. He quenched himself and paused intently, eyes wide, still crouching.
“What the fuck?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is he – what, is he practicing?”
“I don’t know. He’s got a ton more balls in his bag. Maybe he’s trying to sell them?”
“He’s doing a terrible job.”
Alan craned his neck forward, looking past Frances at a massive pickup truck parked two spaces away.
“This guy . . .” Alan pointed at the truck.
The truck’s driver-side window was rolled down. A huge man wearing sunglasses and a cowboy hat draped his arm out the window, glaring at the man with the balls, who was continuing to do a remarkably mediocre job of juggling. The fat man lifted his right arm, revealing a long pink flute-like object, which he drew slowly to his lips. He inhaled deeply, held his breath, and slowly exhaled, the flute still touching his lower lip slightly. White vapor billowed from his nostrils. He licked his lips and stared at the man with the balls.
“Can we go? Please?”
“Sorry. Yes. Sorry.”
“Where’s the glue? What happened?”
“I don’t know! I looked for it, I couldn’t find it, I asked, and they said they didn’t have it.”
“They had the stick kind, but the lady said they only get the other kind in at – during the start of the school year. Like in August.”
Frances sighed loudly.
“I know! It’s ridiculous.”
“It’s not ridiculous. It’s just not convenient.”
“Well – Yeah. Yes.”
Frances looked at Alan. She noticed some red crust in the corner of his mouth. He smiled at her.
“What’s that in – what’s on your face? What is that?”
“Wha-“ Alan wiped his face on his sleeve. “Oh – “
“What?” Frances said sharply.
“It’s – I – had – I had some Kool-Aid.”
“I got – I just, wanted something – I wanted some Kool-Aid, so I – had some Kool Aid. In there.” Alan looked intently at his leg.
“Wait, what? What are you saying?”
“I just had some Kool-Aid.”
“You drank Kool-Aid? Did you pay for it?”
“No, I – it was just a packet. Of it.”
“What? What the fuck are you talking about, you had a packet of Kool-Aid?”
“I dr-I ate – yes. I had a packet of Kool-Aid. I had a red packet – a packet of red Kool-Aid.”
“So – you took . . ." Frances shook her head, "did – you didn’t answer my question – did you steal it?”
“Yes.” Alan looked past his leg.
“What is wrong with you?”
He looked up at Frances, but could only handle her face for a second before he looked back at his leg.
“Whatever. Just – get us out of here. Let’s go.”
Frances pressed her fingers into her eyes and leaned her head against her window. She slid the palm of her hand beneath her chin. The fat man in the truck stared at the man with the balls. Alan started the car. The man on the sidewalk dropped a ball and ran after it into the parking lot.