Psychic

by Jennifer Shumate


"You're chicken shit." Sam poked Eddie’s chest for emphasis. Behind him was the object of their disagreement, a dusty tent decorated with a wooden sign that said "PSYCHIC" in bold letters.

"That's just a scam." Eddie was the lone dissenter in the hodge-podge group assembled around them. "Everybody knows that."

"You're chicken shit."

"Nuh-uh."

"Prove it."

"I ain't gotta prove shit."

"Then you're a chicken shit." His companions, in an equal state of intoxication, murmured their agreement.

"I am not!"

"Bet you twenty bucks that you ain't got the balls to get your fortune read."

"That's stupid."

"Chicken shit." 

Eddie marched wordlessly to the tent, and lifted the flap as he entered. It took a minute for Eddie's eyes to adjust to the darkness of the room. The beers his friends bought him in exchange for a mid-week trip to the state fair were starting to go to his head. Several unlit candles sat on a small table in the middle of the tent. The heavy fragrance of incense coated everything. A middle-aged woman sitting behind the table looked up at Eddie as the tinkle of the wind chimes hanging from the tent flap announced his entrance.
 
"Can I help you?" Her voice was rough and gravelly. She examined him with disinterested eyes as she picked up a lit cigarette from the ashtray next to her.
 
"So are you a real psychic?" Eddie looked back at his snickering friends gathered outside the tent. He longed to leave this eerie woman and rejoin the bright lights of the carnival, but he wasn’t about to lose twenty bucks.
 
"That's what the sign says. Sit." She motioned toward the table, and started lighting candles as Eddie sat down. "So what is it you want to know?"

"Shouldn't you know? I thought you were a psychic." Eddie smirked in spite of the woman's lack of amusement.
 
"Do you want me to tell you everything, then?" She leaned toward Eddie, a devilish smile playing on her lips. "Let's start with your death, then. We can work our way backwards from there."

"No!" Eddie backed away from her. "Let's talk about something happy. You can tell me about hockey. You could tell me who wins the Stanley Cup next year. Or when the Redwings will win the Cup again."

"That is not the information that you seek." She took another drag from her cigarette. "Such trivial matters are not on your mind tonight."
 
"Uh, you don’t know how much I love hockey."
 
"What you want to know about," the woman paused for effect, "is love."
 
*  *  *  *

Heather was in a sour mood when Eddie got home that night.

"Where were you all night?" She stood in the living room with her arms crossed. "I called your cell phone twenty-three times, and you never answered."

"One would think you'd get a clue after the third time." Eddie pushed past her and flopped down on the sofa. 

"Excuse me?" Heather glared at him.

"Did I stutter?" Eddie picked up the remote control and flipped on the TV. "If I wanted to talk to you, I would have answered the phone."

Heather snatched the remote out of Eddie’s hand. "I'm your girlfriend. You're supposed to answer the phone when I call. Where were you all night? You haven’t answered the question."

"I went to the state fair. I got shit-faced drunk, flirted with girls prettier than you and had my fortune told by a psychic. Happy?"

"You went to a psychic? That’s a sin! It goes against the Bible to engage in that sort of behavior!"

"It doesn't matter, it was just a bunch of bullshit anyways." 

"That isn't the point." She put her hands on her hips and glared at him. "It's a sin, and you shouldn't do it."

"So is fucking me, but that doesn't seem to stop you." Eddie pushed himself off the couch and slammed the bedroom door shut with Heather’s mouth still hanging open.


*  *  *  *

The smoking area at work was crowded, but his spot on the bench was empty as always. His best friend, Kara, waited in the seat next to it.

"Morning, beautiful." Eddie pulled out a cigarette and sat down.

"Hey, sexy." Kara smiled when she saw him. "Any more adventures at the state fair?"

"No, I think I’ll be avoiding fairs of any kind for awhile."

"What did that psychic say, anyways? You never told me."

"Why does everyone keep asking me that?" Eddie formed a tight fist with his left hand, the knuckles turning white and the veins in his arm bulging. "It was just a bunch of bullshit. Psychics are just a scam."

"Don't bite my head off over it. Why are you in such a good mood?"

"Because I had such a fantastic weekend." He took a long drag of his cigarette. "After the fiasco with the state fair last week, Heather decided that we need to get married."

"What the hell?" Kara stared at him disbelief. "You go on a drunken bender, and it makes Heather all starry-eyed?"

"Hardly." Eddie grimaced. "She feels that it's time for me to grow up and start a family."

"Punishment by engagement, huh? That's an interesting concept."

"She's threatening to leave me if we're not going to get married."

"So let her leave."

"I can't afford for her to leave." Eddie rubbed his eyes as though he were trying to rub out the mountain of debt he had accumulated. "I've got a house payment, a car payment, three credit card payments. The only way I can make it without her is if I sell my house."

"You get a roommate for extra money. You don't stay with a woman that drives you insane just to pay the bills."

"Are you planning to leave your asshole husband so that you can be my roomie?" Eddie wore an amused expression. "I didn't think so."

"I can't leave Roger. He needs me." Kara stared at the wall. "You know about his heart condition."

"If you can stay with your husband so he has insurance, I can stay with my girlfriend for the extra income." Eddie took another drag of his cigarette. "Besides, you can't be my roomie anyways."

"Why's that?"

"Because you wouldn't be able to resist my raw animal magnetism."

"You're such an annoying little shit," Kara said. "I don't know why I put up with you."

"It's because I have big tits." Eddie grabbed his chest and kissed the air for emphasis.

*  *  *  *

 "I am going to kill Roger." Kara plopped down on the bench next to Eddie two weeks later. "I am going to take a stick and poke him in the eye over and over again."

"What did he do now?" Eddie said.
 
"He went fishing until 5am Sunday morning again. I begged him not to go so we could spend some time together, and he blew me off for fishing."

"Doesn't he always?"

"I wonder if he's really going fishing." Kara pulled a cigarette out and lit it. "He never answers his cell phone when he's gone."

"You think he's cheating on you?"

"I wouldn't put it past him." Kara's face darkened. "He always accuses me of sleeping with you."

"Maybe he's projecting?"

"I can't find a shred of proof. I've gone through his cell phone bill, and the bank account and I didn’t find anything. If he’s cheating on me, he's damn good at hiding it."

"That doesn’t make him innocent." Eddie looked thoughtful for a moment. "Although, I don't think he’s smart enough to hide it that well."

"Just because you don't like him, doesn't mean that he’s stupid." Kara punched him lightly in the gut. "He isn't all bad, you know."

"He isn't?"

"No, he isn't." Kara couldn't stop herself from laughing at Eddie's confused look. "He has his moments. He can be really sweet when he wants to. He bought me flowers last month for my birthday. And he's very affectionate towards me."

"That's why you're always bitching about him. Because he's sweet."

"Do you know what love is?"

"Enlighten me, please."

"Love is finding someone whose shit you can put up with." Kara took another drag of her cigarette. "Anyone you live with is going to piss you off. The trick is finding someone that doesn't incite homicidal mania."

"That's not a very romantic notion of love."

"I told you I'm not a typical girl."

*  *  *  *

"Heather's at it again," Eddie said as he walked downstairs with Kara a month later. "She says I need to make an honest woman of her."

"You mean she needs to make an honest man of you."

"I don't understand this obsession women have with getting married." Eddie shot her a puzzled look as he scratched his head.

"What're you looking at me like that for? You think I know?"

"Well, you are a girl."

"That's a nasty rumor that's been going around. Bunch of malarkey, if you ask me."

"So you're a dude with double D tits?"

"I'm female. Not a girl. Girls whine too much."

Eddie said nothing for several minutes. They sat on the bench and smoked in silence. He seemed to have forgotten that Kara was there, lost in his own thoughts.

"I've been toying with the idea." He fidgeted absently with his shirt.

"Of marrying Heather? Why?" 

"I'm thirty years old, Kara." Eddie was staring at his shoes like a child about to get grounded. "It's time for me to settle down. I want kids and a family. I can't keep waiting for the perfect person."

*  *  *  *

 "What are we doing here again?" Roger stopped the car in front of the valet booth and waited for Kara to get out. "I hate clubs. I don't want to go here." Spotlights pointed to the sky circled in time to the music pulsating from inside the club. Cigarette smoke billowed out every time the door opened. A line of people shifted and squirmed as they waited to go in.

"We're here to have fun, Roger." Kara tried to keep the irritation out of her voice. "So stop bitching."

"A club is not my idea of fun."

"No, but it's my idea of fun."

"I don't even like Eddie. Can we go now?"

"Do what you want, I'm staying." Kara pushed through the crowd to get away from him.

"The hell you are." Roger grabbed her arm and pulled Kara towards him. "If I'm leaving, so are you."

"Guess you better stay then." She wiggled out of his grasp. "Help me find Eddie."

"Find him your damn self." Roger shoved his hands into his pockets and shuffled his feet as he followed her. "So much for having an enjoyable evening. Thanks for nothing."

She scanned the crowd for Eddie until she saw his familiar baseball cap. Roger and Kara threaded their way through the pulsing crowd until they reached Eddie. Heather was draped around him, a tiny diamond ring winking under the florescent lights. She scowled at Kara when Eddie wrapped his arms around her in a tight bear hug.

"Let's go sit over there." Eddie pointed to a table far from the dance floor. "Me and Kara will get drinks, you guys go ahead and snag that table before someone else does."

Heather followed Roger to the table. Eddie got in line for the bar behind Kara.

"Heather looks excited to be here," Kara said.

"Almost as excited as Roger. You had to force him to come too, huh?"

"Yeah. He was fine with it a week ago, but he tried to back out at the last minute." Kara twisted her face into a grimace. "I knew he was gonna pull something like that. Now he's sulking that it didn't work."

"How long do you think he'll let you stay?"

"Screw him. I'll leave when I want."

"Spoken like a true loving wife."

"I'm leaving him. I decided last week. I don’t have enough money to leave him yet, though. I should have enough in another two or three months, though."

"What about his heart condition?"

"It isn't my fault that he has a heart condition, and it isn't my fault he doesn’t bother to get a job with insurance."

"You need a loan?"

"You know better than to even ask that." Kara shook her head. "I don't borrow money from friends. It's a terrific way to end a friendship."

"Suit yourself. I'd argue, but it won't do any good."

"Nope."

The crowd surged and pushed Eddie into Kara. She felt a curious thrill when his hand brushed against her hip. He hesitated, then put his hand back in his pocket. Kara pretended not to notice that Eddie was standing very close to her. After a few minutes, boredom set in and Kara started dancing to the music while they stood in line. Eddie touched her hips lightly and danced with her. Kara looked in Roger’s direction, but they were out of sight of the significant others. Eddie seemed to read her mind, and pulled her closer to him.

"Nervous?" He bent down and spoke into her ear.

"Don't want to make it worse than it already is." Kara turned around, wrapped her arms around his neck and continued dancing. 

"Can you imagine the fit he would have if he saw us like this?"

"Heather, too." Eddie smiled at her. "You look beautiful tonight."

"Beautiful? Me?" Kara stuck her tongue out at him. "I thought I was a dude with double D tits."

"You said that, not me," Eddie's hands tightened around her waist. "You're always putting words in my mouth."

"I'm a girl. It's what we do."

"I thought you weren't a girl."
 
"I am when it suits me."

*  *  *  *
 
"I told Heather to pack her shit and get out." Eddie sat down next to Kara in the smoking area a month later. "I can't take any more of her constant bitching."

"About time you gave her the old heave-ho. I thought you wanted to settle down and start a family."

"Screw that." Eddie made a gagging noise. "If kids and a family means a lifetime of putting up with that bitch, I'll live alone for the rest of my life."

"Has she gone yet?"

"She claims she's looking for a place to live. I think she's stalling."

"At least you didn't marry her. Just think, you could have had this epiphany after you said the vows."

"Speaking of marriage--." Eddie elbowed her in her side.

"Soon." Kara elbowed him back. "I've got a thousand bucks. I just need another thousand and I should have enough money for an apartment and some furniture."

"Has Roger figured it out yet?"

"I don’t think he'll be surprised. He's in denial right now."

"We should celebrate." Eddie put an around her shoulders. "Want to go to the bar with me tonight?"

"What are we celebrating exactly?"

"Our impending freedom, of course."

*  *  *  *
 
When Kara arrived at the bar that night, Eddie was already there. He was nursing a Long Island Iced Tea. Her favorite drink, Sex on the Beach, waited for her next to him.

"Started without me, I see." Kara sat at the barstool next to him. "You're such a lush."

"Always. You're a lightweight, so I figured I would need a head start on you."

"I am not a lightweight. You're just a damn alcoholic."

"We don't call you "Two Beer" for nothing." Eddie pulled the cherry out of his drink and ate it. "And I am not an alcoholic. Alcoholics go to meetings."

"I'm surprised Heather let you out on a weeknight," Kara said. "Or has she accepted her fate?"

"I didn't tell her where I was going. I ate dinner and just walked out of the house. She's called me about twenty-two times."

"That girl's not too fast on the uptake, is she?"

"Nope."

Four Sex on the Beaches later, Kara was in a very good mood. Eddie's barstool seemed to have migrated closer to hers. She was beginning to believe that his bumps and brushes against her were not as accidental as they seemed.

"You're not like any girl I've ever met before." Eddie's fingers were playing with Kara's hair. "You're so much more relaxed than you-know-who."

"You mean Heather?" Kara said. "Who isn't? That girl is wound tighter than a ticking bomb."

"Don't use the H-word." Eddie's face wore a mock scowl. "It isn't nice."

Kara intertwined her arm with Eddie's. "I won't say the H-word if you don’t say the R-word. Deal?" She smiled at Eddie, and felt a twinge of electricity. Eddie pulled her face towards his and kissed her.

"Deal."

*  *  *  *

"We're not going to regret this in the morning, are we?" Kara snuggled closer to Eddie. He ran his hands down her naked body and kissed her on the forehead.
 
"Of course not. We're still best friends. We always will be."

"Just friends?"

Eddie pulled her chin up until her eyes met his. "We could see where this goes, if you want." He ran his fingers through her hair and kissed her again.

"And what if it doesn't work?"

"Then it doesn't work." He kissed her forehead again. "We'll still be friends like we always have been. Besides, if I can put up with Heather, I can sure as hell put up with you."

"I just thought of something funny." 

"What's that?"

"My mother was going to name me Heather," Kara said. "My dad hated the name, though. When they asked my dad what to name me, Mom was still passed out cold from surgery. So he named me Kara."

"That is funnier than you know." Eddie's voice sounded suddenly strange.

"What do you mean?" Kara gave him a puzzled look.

"You remember the psychic I went to awhile back?"

"Yeah, you said she was full of shit. You were really touchy about too. Damn near bit my head off every time I mentioned it."

"Thats because what she said scared the piss out of me. She said I would fall in love with a girl named Heather."