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Distilled Spirits: Ch. 10 — Geno

September 24, 2013

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 3:  “Drought at the Fountain of Youth”

Geno

          Geno hated working on Washington Ave, but the boat owners on these slips were universally loaded.  That meant more money to their lawyers and, just like Reagan always wanted, it meant more trickled down to him.  At least it was a weekday—the popular boardwalk that ran along South Harbor was free of weekend warriors, out-of-towners, and old people reenacting their Beta Sigma collegiate years.

It’s also where the girl named S worked twice a week.  The café / bar that she waitressed / bartended at was pretentious, but compared to rest of the street, the female and male staff wearing low-cut kilts wasn’t that weird.  With the exception of the girl he followed here, all the other women wore tops that drooped and revealed generous scoops of skin—the manager had a preference.

Geno watched them bus tables from the railing overlooking the water, and wished he had asked Glenn for a cigarette to make his spying more natural.

Sidney couldn’t come this time.  His friend didn’t say why, but he was pretty sure it involved a girl.  One of Caitlyn’s old Feminist friends from art school.  Geno missed hanging with them—Val had taught him a few cool brush techniques, but he generally passed on the nude painting parties.

He hoped it was a date.   Geno couldn’t remember the last time Sidney went on one that he wasn’t tricked into.

“Why are you following me around, dude?” a voice said from behind, and Geno froze.

The girl was gone from the café and a male waiter glanced in his direction.

“I gave a description of you to Peter—I’ve seen you around,” she said.  “Geno Roark.  That’s you.”

He turned around and saw the short girl named S—she came up to about his shoulders and wore a form-fitting t-shirt over long-sleeves that barely covered her slender hips.

“So you know my name.”  Geno’s thoughts slowed, and he fought to maintain eye-contact.  The kilt was very low-cut.  “What’s—uh—what’s yours?”

“Nu-uh,” she said, brushing away bangs that sharply angled down over one eye—they fell back.  “It doesn’t work that way.”

“Starts with an ‘S’, though.  Right?  I could’ve asked your neighbors.  But I didn’t.”

“Should I thank you for not breaking into my apartment, too?” she asked.  “Whatever—it’s Scarlett.  I’m Scarlett.”

“ . . . like the fever?”

She glanced away.  “Like the girl’s name, asshole.  I never liked it—I feel like I should live in Georgia.”

“What if I called you Scar?” Geno asked.

“Like the bad guy in Lion King?”

“Maybe.  Yes.”

“No,” she said.

A medium-sized yacht passed beneath the bridge.  The slip where that boat parked probably cost more than Geno’s apartment.  Even if Glenn hadn’t given him a good deal.

“What’s in the bag?” Scarlett asked.

“Camera equipment,” he said, putting his back to the water.  “There was a boating accident under the bridge and the lawsuit . . . You don’t actually care, do you?”

“No,” she said.  “I’m not good with cameras.  Listen, buy me some ice cream and I’ll forget this whole thing.”

“What?”

“A couple buildings down,” Scarlett said.  “Sweet Freeze.  It’s really good and I need to sit down—I’m on break.”

She started walking down the boardwalk, the wind ruffling out her kilt and—Geno glued his eyes to the back of her head.  Her hair was cut ragged short at different intervals, one long strip covering an ear.

Geno had no choice but to follow—he could almost hear Glenn’s voice in his head telling him that he owed her.

It was crowded, but Scarlett found them a table and Geno went for the ice cream, and it was only when he started ordering that he realized that he had never asked what she wanted.  He looked back but she had this tilted grin on her face.  She waved him along like he was a car in traffic.

Geno came back with a cup of chocolate and a cup of vanilla, setting them down in the middle of the picnic table so that neither was closer to either person.  Two scoops were in each.

Scarlett bit her lip and picked up one of the spoons, pointing it at him.  “You think you’re really goddamned clever.”

“I do,” Geno said.

Balancing a chocolate scoop delicately on her spoon, Scarlett transferred it to the other cup, and did the same with the vanilla, sliding one closer.

“What if I wanted chocolate chip cookie dough?” she asked around a mouthful.

“Risk vs. reward,” he said.

“Huh?”

“One of my university minors was—never mind,” Geno said.  “This was statistically the safest play.”

“Safe, huh.”

Scarlett was alternating bites between both while he worked solely on vanilla.

“You took my job, you know,” Geno said.  “One of them.”

“Peter told me,” she said.  “I saw some of your landscape work. It’s not terrible.  But, hey, this ice cream is great and all, but why were you following me?”

Geno thought for a moment.  “I needed to figure out what your deal was,” he said.  “Why you were cutting in—you even started street painting tourists on Saturdays.”  He looked her in the eyes.  “That’s the same day I do it.”

“Hey—I set up two blocks away,” Scarlett said. “It’s not my fault people prefer a girl in a short skirt to a guy with nice shoulders. Why don’t you just get a real job, huh?  People your age—”

“I don’t want one,” Geno said.  “Wait a sec—”

“Really?  You don’t?”

“I don’t.  Why?” Geno asked.  “Why don’t you get one?  I was doing this first.”

“Because I can’t hold one,” Scarlett said.  “I fuck everything up.  Everything I touch—I can’t finish anything.”

“No way, I’ve seen your work.  I’m sure—”

“Part-time art is just a hobby,” she said.  “I failed out of law school.”

“So?” Geno said.  “People—”

“I tried my hardest,” she said, “and I failed.”

“And?”

“You wanna know something that’ll really piss you off?” Scarlett asked.

Geno didn’t say anything.

“I’ve only been landscaping for two months.  And I don’t even like it!  There’s no challenge.”

Geno stuck his spoon in his ice cream.

Scarlett kept talking: “I’ve been accepted into a music program.  I’m going to be a concert or jazz pianist.  Maybe both.”

“Why?”

“Because I think I can do it,” she said.  “What did you want while you were in school?”

“I wanted enough money to live on,” Geno said.

“That’s it?”

“That’s it,” he said.

Scarlett suddenly grinned.  “Once, I was a prostitute—”

“You were never a prostitute,” Geno said.  “I’m drawing the BS line there.”

“I could’ve been,” she said.  “I’m pretty good.  One guy said—”

Geno looked away.

“You’re easy to embarrass, huh?  You wanna know something else?”  She leaned over her cup and brushed her bangs out of her eyes, but she didn’t whisper:  “I’m not wearing any underwear.”

An old man sitting nearby coughed loudly, and his wife scowled at anyone who looked their way.

“I could hold a job if I wanted to,” Geno said.  “I could get promotions.”

“Have you even tried?  Could you really?”

“Of course!  My photographs have been used in court cases,” Geno said.  “I’ve edited my friend Sidney’s writing—and he’s really good.  I can landscape, paint, sing a bit.  I’ve driven taxis, boat tours, and I’ve been a freelance bike messenger since I learned people paid you to ride a bike.”

“What’s stopping you then?”

“Nothing—goddamnit, I’m happy!” he said.  “Happier before you came along.”

“So why the hell are you bothering me?” Scarlett said, crossing her arms.

“Everything was fine before you,” Geno said.  “How—how old are you anyway?”

“Is that what gets you?   My age?”

“You don’t bother me,” he said.

“Well you irritate the shit out of me, dude.  I’m 23.  You?”

“Older,” Geno said.

Scarlett checked her phone.  “Listen, you know where I live, right?”

Geno nodded.

“Well?” she said.  “Play fair.”

Geno sighed.  “Across the water.  1018, 5th St.  #505.”

Scarlett thought something over.  “You know Port Pizzeria?”

“Yeah.”

“Order a pizza Thursday,” Scarlett said.  “8:00—I’m on delivery.  If you tip me well, maybe—maybe I’ll teach you something I’m good at.”

“You mean I have to pay you for—”

Scarlett pushed her nearly finished ice cream away.  “Choose your next words very carefully.”

“You,” Geno began, “you didn’t ask if I have a girlfriend.”

“You stalked me, and now you think I’m asking you out?” she said, standing up.  “Order a fucking pizza, dude.  That’s it.  You owe me.”

“You swear a lot.”

“I have three brothers,” she said.

Straightening her kilt, Scarlett walked back down the boardwalk.  Halfway to her café she stopped, leaned over, and scratched her leg—and Geno realized she told the truth at least some of the time.

When Geno walked to the nearest bus stop he saw her blushing while she served tables.

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