IM NOT DEAD
MEET ME TONIGHT
AT JOHNNYS PIZZA
TELL NO ONE
Four lines. All caps. No punctuation.
Pete didn't recognize the email address. He didn't have to know that to know the message came from Nichole. No one else had died recently. He deleted the email, closed his laptop and lit a cigarette. Only one question circled in his mind: Where the hell is Johnny's Pizza?
Pete pulled his Toyota 4-Runner into the small lot, parked and looked around. He expected the lot to be empty at 9:30 on a Sunday night. Instead, there three cars and two scooters. He sat, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, his stomach a sour mix of dread and fear. "Aw, shit" he sighed, jumping out of the truck. He stood inhaling the cool summer breeze and thought of Nichole.
He hadn't know her long; he hadn't known her well. Like the breeze, she blew into his life, unexpectedly. It was at the 24-hour Rite Aid on Sunset and Fairfax. He was achy and miserable; she was sparkly and alive, something he didn't expect at 3 o'clock in the morning in a drug store. He remembers reaching for a box of Sudafed, it spinning and falling and he following it down. When he awoke, his head was in her lap, a blue velvet, fur-trimmed jacket covering him. 'You okay, champ? Let's go. I got chicken soup." She was a free spirit who took it upon herself to nurse him back to health. Nichole had also decided Pete needed mothering and she was the one to do it. The last time he saw her was the day he told her to stop the mothering.
Shaking her memories from his head, Pete smoothed his khakis and walked to the door. The red neon OPEN sign went dark as his hand touched the handle. A short rotund woman with an ample bosom, smiled sweetly and nodded as he walked in. Her soft pudgy hand guided Pete by his elbow through a curtained doorway. An old greasy-faced man offered up a tray with beverages. Pete grabbed a Coors Light bottle and a glass of water, fairly certain he would need more than one of each.
The rotund woman led Pete to a banquet room. He was surprised to see seven other people in the room, each seated at a small bistro table. He sat down as a candle was placed on the table between his water and beer.
Pete did not recognize anyone. No one spoke. No one looked around. Pete's leg started to bounce nervously. He chugged the beer to keep his sour stomach at bay. He did not have a good feeling about this at all. He stood, turned to walk out, but was stopped by a smile and an insistent shaking of the old lady's head.
Like a mirage, Nichole appeared. She looked sparkly and alive - much like the first time he saw her. She was wearing that same blue velvet fur-trimmed jacked over a white halter top and white sequined hot pants.
"Hello" she said to everyone and, oddly, no one. Her smile was wicked behind its sweet facade as she looked at each person. Her eyes were puffy, makeup smeared.
"No one came to my funeral. None of YOU came to my funeral. You were my closest friends. My cohorts. My confidants. Of all the people in the world, in MY world, you all were the ones I love and trust above all."
She stepped to a young girl in jeans and a Juicy Couture hoodie. "Betsy...you sweet girl...I took you in to my home when you were troubled and in trouble. I shared me with you. And you abandoned me."
A bullet to her brain.
"I should NOT have worn white."
Nichole stepped to the next two people - a boy and another girl. And wordlessly shot each one.
The next two boys seemed to have a conversation with Nichole. Her smile softened a bit. She threw her head back, a silent mocking gesture, then fired two more shots.
The two remaining girls lit cigarettes and called for a round of shots. Nichole raised her glass, clinked to a toast with the others and tossed back the drink. She smiled, kissed each of the girls.
She walked to Pete. "Oh, Peter. Sweet, sweet Peter..." She stroked his hair, kissed his cheek. "Be a doll and take me to Rite Aid please. I'm going to need a Tide stick."