How to Clean Your Conscience Chapter 5: #SMDH

July 22, 2016, 9:00 PM

It was a quiet ride to Gretch’s house… a dark and quiet ride.  Sure, I could’ve rode with Josh, if I wanted an attempted murder charge on my hands.  Somehow, by some unintentional ripple in the universe, Gretch had found herself on the lesser side of two evils.  Danger, however, still loomed.  I couldn’t figure out why, but merely out of pure speculation, there was an underlying feeling—a 6th sense that maybe, just maybe, my life was in the hands of one who was the least pleased with me.  Sweet talk and swift action were mandatory for my survival.

“Well, I’d have to say that was a pretty successful picnic, don’t you think?”  No words were afforded.  No eye contact, no head movement, no emotion.  “At least I had fun…  And boy, I can’t believe your boss let us get away with all that beer.  Two kegs!  I thought he was going to go ballistic after the crap we pulled!”

“He’s making me return them on Monday.  I had no choice.”  Her words were short, using as little jaw movement as possible to speak.  Well, at least she’s talking.

“I thought he said he wanted you in his office?  ‘First thing Monday,’ remember—” She darted her head and shot me an angry stare.  I paused for a moment and recalibrated. “The offer’s still open, you know, in case you change your mind about running tomorrow.  I’ll be up bright and early, testing the new shoes out.”

“I’ll keep it in mind.” By the tone of her voice, I didn’t exactly take her at her word.

“They’re still in the back, aren’t they?”

“Haven’t moved since this afternoon.”

“Oh…  You seem a little down?  Is something the matter?”

“Gee, what possibly could give you such an idea?”  Hmm, sounds like sarcasm if you ask me.

“Hey, cheer up, Gretch! Me and Bill are in town, we got all this beer in the back, and we get to hang out with Megan Mills tonight…  We are hanging out with Megan Mills, right?”

“…Yes.  For the 100thtime, yes, we are going to hang out with Megan Mills.  She lives with me after all, which I’ve also told you several times now.”

“I’m pretty sure I’ve only asked you a couple times, but whatever.  Just a little excited to hang out with my friend, like there’s something wrong with that.  I’m surprised you aren’t as excited as I am…” There was no response.  “You know, if you changed your attitude a little bit, I’m sure you’d get a little more enjoyment out of your day.  Take a look at me, for instance.  It’s been one heck of a stressful day with the restaurant and picnic and all, but I’m still chuggin’ along.  In fact, I’m in a great mood!”  

Gretch pressed her lips firmly together, widened her eyes, and cocked her head tight like she was having a seizure, containing the demon inside her body that was clawing for its release.  Must be suffering from Ben Woodward Syndrome…  “Look at the bright side.  It could worse.  It could be Josh Ulrich in this car right now instead of me.”

“Oh my… I can’t even imagine…”

“…Unfortunately, I can… Where is Josh anyway?”

“Him and Bill are at the store getting inner tubes and booze for the float tomorrow.”

“Oh yea, Tubapalooza.  What a joke. At least we don’t have to put up with—wait a minutethat means there’s still time.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Just keep driving. Better yet, step on it.”

“I don’t understand—“

“Don’t worry about it, just go!”  She drove on. Not another word was spoken.

Making a good impression on Megan Mills wasn’t just rational, it was crucial, each occasion being just as critical as the last.  As an ally, she would fight alongside you until the very last breath.  As an enemy, she’d make you wish you were never born, and keeping in good company could prove to be a full-time affair.

The old one’s speak of tales, ancient legends past on through the ages of her heroics.  Once during a routine campaign stop, former Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne was confronted by Megan Mills over the issue of Idaho land rights.  The exchange ended with the governor peeing his pants in front of a large crowd of elementary students.  She was 12 years old.

Weeks before Thanksgiving vacation 2013, Idaho State Senator Brandon Durst received an excoriating reply over a Facebook post regarding his flip-flopped position on human rights violations; one by a loyal constituent by the name of ‘Megan Mills.’  A series of placated responses from the Senator followed, responses just as pathetic as his original and serving only to fuel further ruthless rebuttals. Finally, after accusing her of being “misinformed,” Megan Mills called Senator Durst out at the steps of the Idaho State Capitol Building, demanding a showdown, in which she made the claim that she would turn him into a “crying, little school-boy bitch.”  

Days later, the senator resigned, stating “family reasons.”

Of course, nobody has ever confirmed if these rumors are true.  Nobody has ever had the balls to ask her.

Right or wrong, her opinion was worth its weight in gold, and anybody who was anybody in Boise knew that if you wanted to make it, you had to go through Megan Mills.  An alliance with Megan Mills was the only logical explanation for Gretch’s rise, and getting her blessing was going to be a hell of a lot easier without Josh running his mouth.  Our trip depended on it, and time was of the essence.

***

Gretch had barely pulled into her driveway before I swung the door open and jumped out, the car still in motion.  “Zack, wait!” yelled Gretch, watching as I scuttled about the driveway, nearly tripping over my own feet.  “What about the beer?”

“We’ll deal with it later.  Hurry!” I didn’t wait for her.  I ran to the porch, threw the front door open at my own discretion and stepped into the living room.  My mind was overwhelmed at the sight, much like Spicoli’s first encounter with Mr. Hand.  There she sat, looking forward, waiting for me as an arbiter, her hand cupped underneath her chin and her fingers growing like a root up her cheeks; a model posing for an Apple “Think Different” poster.

“Whoa.  Aloha Megan Mills.”  I entered.

A few soft chuckles shot out through the room as Megan Mills kept her pose.  She’s got company.  So far, so good.  Next to her was a can of Coors Original covered in beads of condensation; it’s placement on the empty table intriguing, it’s destructive contents indulging.  “Zack Andrews.  Would you like a beer?”

“You read my mind.” I took a seat across from her. She slid the can across the table. I caught it and popped it open, pressing the chilled rim to my lips and sending the beer down my throat.  That’s really good.  Gretch ran into frame, her hair, torso, and face disheveled.  Too late.  It had already begun, two mortal rivals, sitting across from each other on the brink of civil and sophisticated discourse.  Conditions of surrender were on the table.

“Meet my friends.” I did as I was told and introduced myself, first to a couple standing quietly in the corner, fighting the awkward urge to act as their impetuous selves, forbade by their shared love. Then to Laci, or at least I think that was her name, the details scuffed with a mind wrapped in fury.  In time, we were to share a deep conversation, delving into such matters like philosophy, the rapid changes in American culture, and the Smashing Pumpkins. However, now was not that time.  I turned back to Megan Mills and stared into solitary.  She did the same, vowing not to be the one to break first.  “Sounds like lunch got a little out of control.”

“An old lady got beat up. I felt like I was at the circus.  It was intense.

A snort squeezed out of her, though you could never tell from her stone face.  “In tents?” one of the guests blurted.  A few more snorts filled the room, then chuckles.  I let out a smile, a contagious reaction that turned to a full pandemic of laughter that not even Megan Mills was impervious to, though Gretch showed strong signs of immunity.

I relaxed and turned around to greet Taylor, Megan Mills’ boyfriend and all around good guy, now that it was safe to.  “Taylor…” I said, reaching in for a bro-hug. It was all we needed.  Camaraderie had been well established.

“Zack, we need to get you out tonight.  Boise babes would get a kick out of you!” said Megan Mills.  Gretch rolled her eyes.  The pressure was off.  I sat back, took another sip of Coors, and continued.

“Speaking of Boise Babes, this is how it went down.  I was showing our waitress my new pair of running shoes when all of a sudden, “PHEW!” this dude screams down the middle of the road and pops this dusty old bird in the face, four times in a row!”

“My God!” replied Megan Mills.

“That’s exactly what she said when I pulled out the shoes, which you gotta see these things Megan Mills, they’re beautiful!  Actually—hey Gretch, why don’t you bring them in and show everybody.  They should be in the same place; haven’t moved since this afternoon—“

“For cryin’ out loud Zack, nobody cares about your stupid shoes,” she yelled.

“Gretch, don’t be rude!” chided Megan Mills.  “I’m sorry Zack.  She may be my best friend, but Gretch has a tendency to get a little testy every now and then.”

“No need to apologize. Nothing I’m not used to.”  Gretch glared.

“By the way, how was the picnic?  Anything exciting happen?”

 “Oh my gosh, so get this,” Gretch busted in.  “Zack here went and ran—“

“Ran the table and won the cornhole tournament!  Beat Gretch’s boss in the finals for the win!”  Sorry Gretch, not this time.

“So, does that mean you won the corn hole set?”

“Sure does!”

“So… it’s ours?”

“Sure is!”

Megan Mills’ face lengthened as if she had just laid eyes on upon Jesus Christ in the flesh. “Oh.  My.  God. That is amazing.  Zack, you’re the best!”

“Yea, but—“

“And get this,” I butted in, once again denying Gretch the chance to speak.  “This dude named Logan was trying to swindle it from you guys, kept on pestering me the whole afternoon.  But I stood my ground.  I just knew how important it was to you guys.”

“Wow.”  That’s actually impressive.”

“That’s not exactly how it went down,” interrupted Gretch.

“What do you mean not exactly?  Did I win the corn hole tournament or didn’t I?”

“…Yea, you won, but—“

“And what about Logan?” pressed Megan Mills.

“…So, Zack told him he could have it, and then started acting obnoxious—“

“And I’m talking Ob-Nox-ious!  The guy was nearly in tears after I broke the news!”

“I didn’t mean him, I meant you!”

“Gretch, what are you talking about?  Did we or did not get a cornhole set?”  Megan Mills was through playing games.  A long and awkward silence eventually squeaked out an answer.

“…Yes, we have a cornhole game.  It’s in the back of my car.”

“Well, what are you complaining about?”  Snapped Megan Mills.

“Seriously, can I get a hashtag SDMH up in here?” I asked as I shook my damn head with Megan Mills. A round of suppressed chuckles ran throughout the room.  Hey, I’m on a role!

“I give up.” Gretch threw up her hands and lifted her chin as though she were about to cry.

“There she goes, talking to herself again,” I said.  The comment generated another string of giggles out of Megan Mills and company. “But, yea, other than the cornhole tournament and dealing with Logan the rest of the day, there wasn’t a whole lot that happened.  In fact, it was a rather calm afternoon—“

“Dude, Zack totally chased after a girl.”  The voice was unexpected, pompous, and totally recognizable.  NO! Not now!  This can’t be—no.  No. NO!

“Wait… what!?” Megan Mills straightened in her chair. Her eyebrows twitched, trying to figure out what emotion to use and what its level of intensity should be.

“Do you let yourself into every house that isn’t yours, Josh?”

“Josh can come into our house anytime he likes,” answered Gretch.  A rapid grin grew across her face, Josh’s entrance having given her second life.

“Yea, that’s right,” said Josh, his chin and pecks raised as to say, “I’m the man.”

“Hold on a second,” injected Megan Mills.  “You didn’t mention anything about chasing a girl, Zack.”

 “That’s because I didn’t really chase a girl.  Josh is just trying to blow a bunch of smoke up everybody’s butts.”

“So, by chasing a girl, you’re saying you had a crush on somebody at the picnic, right,” asked Megan Mills.

“More like Zack saw a girl running away so he physically ran after her,” said Josh.

“…You got to be kidding me,” replied Megan Mills, her voice exacerbated by the revelation.

“It’s not even that big of deal Megan Mills, honestly.”

“And she was 50 years old too! Talk about pathetic.”

“Josh!” I screamed.

“Zack!” Megan Mills screamed.

“Megan Mills!” I screamed back. “It wasn’t like that at all!”

“How is that ok?”

“You gotta believe me Megan Mills, it was all Josh’s fault!  He’s the one that told me to do it in the first place!”

“And you listened to him?”

“Hold on a second. This lady was out on a run, and him and Logan wouldn’t shut up, because they know how much I like running and wanted to try out my running shoes.  So I—“

“So you admit it. You did chase a girl.”

“Yes, but—“

“Zack… chasing a girl is never ok, under any circumstance, especially when we’re exercising.  That’s the single most, creepiest thing ever!”

“You gotta believe me Megan Mills.  I’m not a creeper!  Bill, you were there, tell her it’s not true!”  Bill hadn’t uttered a single peep the whole evening, having placed himself sheepishly and strategically in the corner.  His face turned pale and lit with excitement, but for all the wrong reasons. His head shifted back and forth between Josh, myself, Gretch, and Megan Mills, unsure who to side with in this high risk, low reward scenario.  The next words out of his mouth would be devastating to at least one member of the room, and there was no guarantee that they would please the remaining.

“I… I saw it with my own two eyes Megan Mills.  Zack saw the running babe, and in the end, he… he…”  

Bill… please…”

“He chased her.”  Oh Bill… How could you?

“Zack…  You seriously chased a woman.”

“Megan Mills, please—“

“I can’t even…”

“Just listen to me—“

“Ted Cruz would be ashamed!”  The room drew silent, the latest bombshell sucking all the oxygen from it.

“Hold that pose Zack, let me get this on Instagram,” said Josh, phone in hand.  “Hashtag SMDH.”  I sat back, stunned, while the rest of the room erupted in raucous laughter.

Getting embarrassed in front of Megan Mills’ entourage always sucks.  Bill’s betrayal was a slap in the face.  Megan Mills’ mention of Ted was a brutal truth that hit me like a sledge hammer to the stomach.  It was Josh and Gretch, however, such a dangerous pair standing next to each other, grinning such a provoking, shrill grin, such that they had just received the ultimate form of vindication; that was the stake through the heart.  I was a fool, a disgrace, a stain on the city of Boise in the eyes of Megan Mills and company.  Great.  Good luck getting any Boise babes now.

“God, I don’t even know if I feel like going out anymore,” said Megan Mills.

“Way to go Señor Buzzkill.”  What the Hell Josh?  That’s my line!

“Well, I have an idea,” mentioned Gretch, still holding on to her dirty grin.  “What if we went to Roddy’s?”

“That’s the last place I want to go.  Unless…” Gretch and Megan Mills looked at each other and shared a smile.

“Hey Zack, how would you like to ride a mechanical bull tonight?” asked Megan Mills.

“A mechanical bull? I’ve never ridden one of those before. Gee, I don’t know Megan Mills.”

“It’s easy!  I can even get you a free ride,” said Gretch.

Dude, all the babes will love it,” worthlessly added Josh. “Do it… for Megan Mills.”

I looked around the room, surrounded by eager faces, their fate determined by the next set of words to come out of my mouth.  Well, that certainly is a nice offer from Gretch.

“…Sure.  Let’s go.”  This night wouldn’t be ruined on my watch.

“Great!  First you need to unload the kegs,” said Gretch.

“Kegs?”

“Schya!  The kegs from my car, remember?  Don’t just stand there, start unloading.  Let’s go, chop chop!”  I put my head down and waddled outside like a slug.  “And while you’re at it, get those stupid running shoes out of there. They’re taking up valuable real estate—now staring at me like a grump isn’t going to get those kegs out of the car any faster…  Better hurry, Josh and Bill are waiting…  Let’s pick up the pace!  You know we can’t go the bar until you’re done unloading… C’mon, let’s get a move on, we don’t have all night…”

I rose from the chair, my head hung low and waddled myself to the back of her car. There was only one hashtag deemed appropriate for this current occasion.

#FML.

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