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“She Drives Me Crazy” by Kathryn Hughes

She Drives Me Crazy

Kathryn Hughes

I didn’t expect to spend my birthday picking through the racks at Dave’s Bargain Bonanza, Andi called and I couldn’t tell her no.

She’d greeted me with “Kristy, hi, don’t hang up!”, which was insulting.  If I’d wanted to not talk to her, I’d have just let it go to voicemail.

“Hi, Andi. What’s going on?”

“I need you.”

I rolled my eyes. “What?”

“I got an event dumped in my lap this morning, and it’s for tonight.  I need your help.”

The fact that she hadn’t yet said what she needed made me suspicious, but realized I was also mentally reviewing my calendar for the day.  My silence encouraged her.

“It’s a graduation party, and it’s right up your alley.  Shakespeare.”

I glanced at the Complete Works on my desk.  She knew me so well.

“Go on…”

She explained in a rush how her coworker who had been handling it was currently in the hospital with a broken foot, and what there was still left to do, which was a frighteningly long list for only one person.  She ended with, “Please, Babe. Please.” And it was so heartfelt that I found myself asking what I could do before I’d consciously decided to help.

“Get down to Dave’s and pick out our costumes.”

“What, go shopping at Discount Dave’s for some rich kid’s party?”

“It’s Dave’s kid’s party.  Yes, that Dave.  He said we can use anything we want in the store for free as long as he can still sell it in the morning.  Which means the budget he gave us for this is zero, Kris.  I need all the help I can get.”

I sighed.  I had the day off work, and no other plans until the evening.

“Okay, fine.  I’ll go costume shopping.  What do we need?”

We needed everything.  All the costumes.  For Romeo and Juliet.  When she told me it was set in the ’80’s, I almost backed out right then. Eeesh. But, it might be a decent adaptation, one never knows.  Besides, before I could gather my wits, Andi had already hung up.

Not long after, I found myself pushing a cart with three rogue wheels and a squeak, looking over a rack of not-quite-magenta pants, picking up and discarding several jackets with buttons too far to the left, and going through a rack of shirts with one sleeve longer than the other.  At least those, we could roll up the sleeves and they’d look fine.

An hour or so later, I had several choices in varying sizes, because Andi didn’t know anything about her actors.  Based on the options available, the Capulets were going to be in hot pink and the Montagues in neon green.  I also picked up some double-sided tape for holding the tags down, since apparently we couldn’t take them off, and a couple of toy swords for the fight scenes.  I was headed to the checkout when my phone buzzed.  It was Andi.

“Need balcony Out of ideas Hlp, plz”

Seriously? I texted back. “I’m not a carpenter. Sorry.”

Seconds later, her reply: “No need to b weight bearing just something 2 stand behind”.

Well, the gods of the theater must have been smiling on her.  I looked up from my phone to wind up staring at a box for a kid’s soccer kit, and one of the kids was standing behind a goal made of PVC pipe and netting.  Ignoring the fact that clearly whoever designed the box didn’t know how to play the game, or how tall a goal should be, it was still a pretty good idea.  I detoured to the home section to see if they carried piping.
The production was apparently happening in the “Bonanza Cafe”, in the basement of the store.  The walls were each a slightly different shade of yellow.  It bothered me.  I was also sort of amazed that Dave would be willing to forgo the income from hungry shoppers for a day, since the clerk at checkout insisted that I pay for the double-sided tape.  He couldn’t donate $2.89, really?  But at least I didn’t have to fight the cart past customers to reach the backstage area-if “stage” was the right term for that tiny raised platform at one end of the room.

Backstage was controlled chaos…without much control.  I found Andi by following the sounds of yelling.  She was standing in the middle of what was probably a bathroom, waving her ever-present clipboard and issuing orders to anyone who crossed her line of sight.  She’d dyed her hair a brassy sort of red and she was more tan than I remembered.

“Kris! Hi!” When she saw me, she sort of flung herself at me.

“Oof, hi.”

“You made it!” Also insulting.  I said I’d be there, didn’t I?

She did that thing where people hold you by the shoulders at arm’s length.  I’d never met anyone in real life who actually did that, until her.

“You’ve put on weight, are you feeling okay?”

“I’m fine, Andi.” She saw the cart and changed topics in a heartbeat.

“Oh, you brought the costumes, fantastic!  That’s a lot, how many did you bring?”

“About two and a half for each role, you didn’t tell me how many actors you had.”

“Oh, wow!   You memorized how many characters are in the play?  You’re fantastic, Kris.”

I shook my head. “Wikipedia.”

“Okay, well, let’s get everything started, then.  I need you to be in charge of the backstage and the actors, and-“

“Andi. It’s my birthday.”

“I remember, babe. Thank you so much for giving up your day to help us out here.  It means so much to me.”

And before I could marshal any other arguments, she was directing me to supervise the fitting and distributing of costumes.  I never planned to give up my day; she’s just lucky that I didn’t have a party that evening.  It’s tough to have a birthday on a Wednesday.  I got the actors into a line and eventually got almost everyone sorted into something resembling an outfit, with a few more trips upstairs to get a better fit.  Andi grabbed me before I could finish with Mercutio and steered me toward the front.

“Go talk to the caterers, babe.  They can finish up here.”

“I have no idea what I’m doing with caterers! I don’t know anything about this event!  You’re the one hired to make it come out right, why can’t you talk to them?”

“Because, I need to make sure the playlist is right.”

The what? And then she was gone.  I was going to need to get quicker about saying “no” to her.  There was a man in a chef’s jacket standing next to the coffee counter, looking impatient, and a brunette woman wearing a blue sleevless dress standing near the door.  I glanced at her again.  Where did I know her from?  The chef came forward and shook my hand.

“Hi.  Where do you want everything?”

“Um.” I looked around.  “Along that wall?”

“All of it?” the incredulity in his voice had me suddenly very worried.

“Uh, yes? Why?”

The lady stepped in and rescued me.  “We’d better split it up, half on this wall and half on the other.”

The minute I heard her speak, I knew who she was.  I’d seen her playing Nurse Ratchet just last week.  She had good stage presence.  I still couldn’t recall her name, but I felt better having placed her face.  To my delight, she took over seamlessly with the caterer.  I made my escape, but I didn’t get far.  The pile of pipes and connectors I’d brought in were all over the “stage” with three teenagers and Andi standing around staring at them.

“Kris, perfect!  This is your baby, you’d better be the one to put it together.”

I protested that it wasn’t my anything, but she insisted that I’d been the one to have the idea and therefore it was simpler to have me be the one to put it together.  Only my hands could make reality match my vision, apparently.  Arguing with her was impossible, so I started attaching pieces.

I was sitting there, fuming at the world and moments away from just walking away and leaving Andi to her own mess, when I smelled her coming up behind me.  Despite having broken up months ago, one good whiff of her perfume still set my heart racing.  I turned.  Even better, she had a salami sandwich and a coke.

“Here, you started getting scowly, so I figured you probably needed lunch.”

“Thanks, Lem.” I hadn’t intended to call her that, it slipped out in a moment of gratitude.

Post-sandwich, I felt much better.  I got the balcony assembled without too much trouble, though we were running out of time.  It looked something like a metal version of a baby corral, adult size, and with only three sides.  I figured that would be easier than trying to make a single rail be somehow self-supporting.  I’d picked the darkest color of pipe they had and in the dim lighting, it looked almost like something you’d see in New Orleans.  Not too shabby, for being made of nonstandard lengths.

Somebody bellowed at me to move. I picked up the balcony and swung it out of the way for a pair of guys wheeling in what was unmistakably a karaoke machine.

“Andi! What’s going on?” I gestured to it.

“The party’s…” she beckoned me closer so she could whisper.  “The party’s for two guests of honor. It’s a graduation and an anniversary; he wanted to throw them one party together.  They couldn’t agree on a theme, so he mashed them together.”

Well, that explained the 80’s Shakespeare.

“That’s an odd combination.”

She pointed to the chairs, where the audience was starting to trickle in. Front and center was Dave Himself, wearing his trademark alligator cowboy hat, flanked by two women who looked nothing alike.  On his left, Nurse Ratchet, watching the last minute activity on the stage. It seemed she’d gotten things sorted with the caterer.  On his right, someone I would have cast as Peroxide Blonde Number Four (the non-speaking role), in something purple with sequins.

“Okay,that’s an odd pair.  Which is which?”

Andi fidgeted.  “The blonde’s his wife.  His third wife”

The clarification was unneeded.  The woman on Dave’s right couldn’t possibly be anyone’s mother- she looked like she was not yet drinking age.

“How old are they?”

She checked her notes. “Daughter, Amanda, graduated with a masters of fine arts 25, wife, Rachel, 22.  It’s tehir first anniversary.”

Okay, so she was actually old enough to have the glass of wine in front of her.  I walked away to prevent myself from saying something I might regret.  Andi came back moments later with another coke.

“Babe, I need you to run the karaoke machine.”

I stared at her.  I wanted no part of this farce. I had dinner plans. I was not going to do it.  She pushed the can into my hand.

“Please. Kris, I know it hasn’t been the greatest day for you, and I’m sorry, but I really really need you.  You’re the only person in this building who’s competent.  I’ll make it up to you.  Somehow.”

Those pleading eyes. I sighed. I gave in.  She hugged me and for a moment, I wondered why we’d broken up.

“Great, go talk to that guy and get the playlist, here’s your cues.  I need this to be perfect, so can you, just, like, look it over and make sure you’ve got it?”

Ah, yes.  That was why.  I pulled out my phone and texted Jackie. “Stuck doing something else, sorry.  Can we postpone dinner?” She replied a few minutes later. “Yes, of course.  It’s better this way, I’m beat, worked a double.  Happy happy day, favorite cousin!”  I smiled.  She called all of us her favorite.

The cues and playlist were a disaster so bad it actually became pretty great.  Every scene had a song to go with it.  Mercutio’s speech about Queen Mab was followed by “Rock Me, Amadeus”, although I might have chosen “White Rabbit”, but that was a 60’s song, I think.  The scene where Juliet waits for her Romeo was followed with “Like a Virgin”, and the climactic scene, where Romeo poisons himself and then Juliet kills herself with his dagger, was followed with “I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight”.

As the final words from the prince settled into our ears, I hit “play” on the last song in my queue.  The prince grabbed the mic and took a shaky breath.

“Love lift us up where we belong, where the eagles cry… On a mountain high…”

It must have been set to start at the chorus.  Andi and I looked at each other.  I remembered dragging her to see romantic plays when we were together.  She smiled at me.  I smiled back.  With all the love in the air, even though the actors were really amature, I was still feeling ike I could forgive anyone.  Andi reached out like she wanted to hold my hand. The prince went on.

“The road is long, there are mountains in our way, but we climb a step every day…” We’d had some good days, she and I. The song ended, everyone bowed.  Andi mouthed “thank you” at me.
While everyone was filing out, I was feeling pretty good.  I’d helped a friend out of a jam, and I hadn’t even killed anyone.

And then Andi shattered it.  “Kris, don’t go yet, I need you to help get everything cleaned up and put back.”

I held my hand up to stop her.  “Andrea. I am tired.  I have been here, all day, at your request.  I cancelled my plans.  I have fitted costumes, made a balcony railing, and spent more time in this building than is healthy for me, I’m sure.  I.  Am.  Done!”

She reached in her purse and offered me a cigarette.

I shook my head.  “I don’t want that.”

“Yes, you do.  You haven’t had a smoke break all day, no wonder you acting like a- like this.”

I gritted my teeth.  “I quit, Andi.  Thirty-nine days ago.”

She placed the cigarette in my hand. “Oh, that’s why you’re looking chubby.  Just go have this one, you’ll feel so much better.  It’s just one.”

She never smoked.  She still carried those around for me, unless her new girlfriend smoked my brand.  But she had no idea what she was asking.  I did want it.  I wanted that thing so bad my teeth itched.  Again, I couldn’t tell her no.  I took it.

Standing outside the back door, I realized I didn’t have a lighter.  I was debated between going back in to find one or simply chewing on the cigarette, when I heard the door open behind me.

“Here.” It was Dave’s daughter, the actress.  I looked at what she was offering.

“Gum?” She tipped the package so I could see the label.  Ah.  Nicorette.  “Thanks.” I took a piece.

“I heard what happened.  I’m quitting, too, so I know how it is.”

“Thank you.  I’m Kristy.  Happy graduation

“Amanda. Thanks.”

The night was a little chilly.  Somewhere a dog barked.

“I saw you in Cuckoo’s Nest.  You were good.  Sorry your party came out like that.”

She smiled.  “Thank you.  I liked that one.  As for the party, it was more for my dad than me.  My graduation’s not even until Friday, but he insisted that he wanted to celebrate tonight.” She rolled her eyes.  “Probably so he can ‘celebrate’ with Rachel on Friday.”

Andi called after me. “Kris? Are you ready yet?”

I glanced at the door, looked back to Amanda.  “Well, I hope your actual day is a good one, then.”

“Did I hear you say you’d canceled your plans?”

I was embarrassed.  “Just postponed, my cousin and I always have birthday dinners together.” I mumbled.

“Today is your birthday? Well, let me make it up to you.  Come have dinner with me on Friday, we’ll celebrate both of us.  Without karaoke.”

I laughed.  “Sure, that sounds great.”

“Can I get your number?” I nodded.  “My phone is in my car, though.” She gestured to her dress- no pockets, no purse.

“I’ll walk you to your car, then.” I smiled.  Andi would be fine without me.

© 2015 Kathryn Hughes


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