Lotto looks out the passenger window as the car moves at a respectable speed. She doesn’t know what to say to these two strangers even though she agreed to get into a car with them. Her hands are steady and are sitting in her lap in an unconscious prayer position. She relaxes when they pass the movie theater, and then the library. A few minutes later and they are out of town and the abandoned roads and plains spread out before them like peanut butter on toast. Erin speeds up and rocks and dirt kick up behind the car, making a cloud that follows them on their journey. Darkness looms before them, with the car’s headlights the only bright spot for miles. The openness comforts Lotto. After what seems like an eternity, Erin pulls into an abandoned parking lot with a rectangular building at the center. When Lotto sees the six white 50+ feet screens placed in a circle around the structure, she can’t believe her own eyes. She reverts her attention back to the building and sees a small light on top with the words Snack Bar exhibited. Before she can ask, Erin announces, “This used to be a drive in about 25 years ago. People would come here in their cars and watch movies on the screens. We come here every once in a while just to hang out.”
Ned says from the back, “Its nice, right Lotto?”
“Let’s stop talking about it and show Lotto around,” Erin says over her shoulder as she exits the vehicle, closing the door with force.
Lotto feels like she is flying as she opens her door. She had read about these drive ins while researching at the library but she had no idea that they still existed. Not that you could say this drive in was existing. Like every other landmark Lotto had grown up with, it had seen better days. Four of the six screens were see through they were so worn. The lines in the ground that were once reserved for cars were all gone. The poles with attached radios still stood but tilted at an angle, too tired to stand up straight. Lotto felt sadness as she touched the poles, wishing she had been around when these drive ins were filled with eager moviegoers, munching on nachos, throwing popcorn, and sitting in their cars with the windows rolled down. “Everything okay, Lotto?”, Ned asked.
Lotto smiles without thinking and says, “Thank you for bringing me here.”
Erin shouts from the other side of the building, “YOU’RE WELCOME!” Lotto and Ned both laugh and walk over to Erin. She is propping a worn looking ladder up against the rectangular building.
“Who wants to go first?”, Erin asks. “Lotto can go first and then you Erin”, Ned suggests. Lotto puts her hand on the ladder and steps onto the first rung. She looks up, steadying herself. When she sees Ned’s hand on the ladder to keep it still, her heart jumps out of her chest and flings itself at him and this act of chivalry. She floats up the ladder, confident now that she won’t fall. When she gets to the top she walks to the middle of the roof and sits down cross legged. She looks up at the sky and is astonished. The sky is filled with stars. It is the most beautiful thing she has ever seen. “It’s like another world, huh Lotto?”, Ned asks as he takes a seat next to her. “The cleaner the air, the more stars you can see.”
“Well, DUH Ned. Lotto probably knows that,” Erin states with a smirk.
“Whatever Erin.” Lotto ignores the bickering siblings, reminded of Tera the Awful. She lays back and just stares at the sky.
After five minutes of peaceful silence, Lotto decides to ask the question that she has been wondering ever since she met Ned and Erin on Sunday. “Why did you guys come up to me at the soda shop last Sunday?” Lotto isn’t surprised when Erin answers first.
“Because you looked like a wounded rabbit that needed to be rescued before you became road kill.”
“Nice Erin,” Ned says as he sits up and slugs his sister in the arm. He looks at Lotto and says, “What my punk sister is trying to say is that you looked like you needed a friend.” “And,” he throws her a wicked grin, “we pick up strays.” Erin laughs out loud at this. Lotto doesn’t want to be the recipient of anybody’s pity but even she can recognize an offer of friendship. She starts to laugh with Erin, which turns into a fit of giggles when Ned begins laughing. His laugh is more of a seal bark with a snort thrown in every now and then. Lotto is delirious with delight now, liking this boy in front of her even more. His perfection made him unattainable but this circus animal laugh made her want to give him a hug. Lotto felt the pressure that has been attached to her shoulders diminish and a weightlessness come over her.
Once they laughed till their sides hurt, Erin walks over to the edge, sits back down and lets her legs dangle. She pats the spot next to her, signaling for Lotto to come sit next to her. “Are you ready for part two of the Spanish Inquisition Lotto?” Knowing this was coming, Lotto joins Erin and waits for the first question. “Why don’t you go to school with the rest of us schlubs? You think you are special or something?” Lotto tries to make it quick and to the point.
“When I was seven I kept passing out at school. It happened enough times that I became scared. I told my teacher and she called my parents. A week later I was at home with my schoolwork and instructions to go online to watch videos of teachers going over the work. It’s been that way ever since.”
Ned’s voice carried from their original spot and asked, “Are you still passing out and seeing things?”
“Yeah, about once a week. But I say I’m not seeing things anymore. When I told them I was, my parents took me to the doctor where I was put through tests. I was stuck with needles, cords attached to me, and there were a few overnight stays. I wised up and kept my mouth shut.”
Ned, having made his way over to the girls, puts his hand over Lotto’s and quietly said, “I’m sorry Lotto. That sucks.”
Pressing on, but covering Lotto’s other hand with her own, Erin asked, “What do you see?”
“I am in somebody’s house and the person that lives there is sick. They need my help but I can’t get to them. I also have a vision where I am in an abandoned warehouse. The doors are locked and it feels like the walls are closing in.” Lotto stops at that, not wanting to talk anymore. Doubt starts to fill her up and she wonders why Erin wants to know so much. She pulls her hand away from Erin and simply says, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore, if that’s okay.”
At the same time Ned and Erin both answer, “I don’t blame you.”
Lotto stood up and asked, “Can we go home now? I am afraid that my parents will notice that I am gone.” Ned frowns but doesn’t say anything.
Erin replies, “No worries. We have to get home anyways.” The three of them climb back down and take their time walking to the car. Lotto didn’t want the night to end but her brain was on overload. She couldn’t decide if Ned liked her or if he was just genuinely nice. She liked Erin but didn’t trust her. And, most of all, she was afraid she had said too much.
When they got to the Honda, Lotto tried to get in the back seat again but Ned wouldn’t let her. She grumbles under her breath, hoping Erin won’t ask anymore questions. Erin starts the car without a word and presses down on the accelerator. They all lurch forward. Erin says, “Sorry,” and they keep moving.
Nobody says a word during the too short trip back to Cream. Erin stops in front of the soda shop and leaves the car running. “Do you have a cellphone that we can reach you at?”
Lotto drops her head, shaking it no. “My parents don’t think I need one.” Ned reaches under the front seat, straightens up, and hands a cellphone over Lotto’s shoulder.
“The number is 230-998-6309. Hang onto it. Our number is already saved in there.”
Lotto tries to hand the phone back. “I can’t take that. Those are expensive.”
Erin glances up from picking at her zebra striped nail polish and tells her, “Take it. We always have an extra. Our parents give them to us when they upgrade.” She smiles at Lotto, showing her sincerity.
Ned pulls out his phone while Erin takes hers out of her weathered hobo purse. “See?”
With that, Lotto takes the phone and tucks it into the pocket of her jeans. “Thank you.”
“Will you be coming here on Sunday Lotto?”, Ned asks. “We’re usually here at 1.” Lotto wants to say yes but is afraid to appear too eager.
“I don’t know. I go to a couple of other places on Sundays. I’ll try to come.”
Erin looks like she wants to ask something but just states, “See you around then. Don’t lose the phone.” Lotto takes that as a goodbye and gets out of the car. When she turns around to wave, Ned is looking at her as they speed away while Erin gives her a thumbs up in the side mirror.
Lotto didn’t know what to make of the night’s events. Her insecurities were threatening to take over. She couldn’t understand why Ned and Erin had taken such an interest in her. They seemed easy, outgoing, and not lacking in the confidence department. So why her? Lotto’s natural instinct was to let these feelings linger but instead she decided to feel the warmth of her hand where Ned had shown tenderness. An unnatural emotion bubbled to the surface that she didn’t recognize. She knew she wanted to see Ned again. But now did she dare hope that he wanted to see her also?
When she saw her bedroom window in the distance, she went stiff. Did she leave her light on? And window open? She dropped like she was ready to give twenty. There wasn’t any movement in the room, if her eyes weren’t deceiving her. Lotto didn’t know what to do. She crab walked to the lawn in front of the house and then sank her whole body into the grass. She dragged her body through the moisture, trying not to think about the bugs who call where her jeans are home. She stops half way and listens. She can hear the wind giving its nightly greeting to the tree to her right. The crickets were chattering, signaling the warmer months were on their way. But no voices. And nothing coming from her room. She pops her head up and down like a bobble head, trying to catch a glimpse. Still nobody. She sits under the window sill for five minutes, even though it feeels like an eternity. She rips off the band aid and stands up. And even though she has checked numerous times in the past ten minutes, Lotto can’t believe her room is empty. Nothing has been touched. Lotto’s shoulders drop in relief. She crawls through the window, closes it without a sound, and turns off the light. After changing out of her clothes and into her pajamas, she jumps into bed with glee. She had gotten away with it. Lotto falls asleep with a devious grin on her face.