Burnout - Coralee June
Everything I owned was on my back: three outfits, a cellphone with a cracked screen, and a folded up photo of Mama I couldn’t look at because it hurt too fucking much. I stood on the sidewalk, staring up at the red brick building in front of me.
I was avoiding eye contact with the balding homeless man three steps to my left. He was playing his scratched up and out-of-tune guitar while singing off-key for tips. From the looks of it, he wasn’t making much. If I had money to spare, I’d drop a nickel in his jar out of pity.
The humid air smelled like charred BBQ and grime. A steady summer breeze kissed the beads of sweat dripping down my face, effectively melting the cheap makeup I’d capriciously painted on to hide the dark circles under my eyes. It was sweltering hot, the air so humid it felt like I was walking around in a cloud of morning breath.
What the actual fuck was I thinking?
I’d asked myself that question numerous times on the drive from Lucas, Texas, to here. It had been a long trip. Not because the distance itself was necessarily daunting, but because I stopped every thirty minutes to park and convince myself to turn back. I could run away. I could escape this, if I really wanted.
So why didn’t I want to?
My older brother’s loft in Memphis was in the South Main Arts District. It looked nice on the outside and had that hipster vibe I loved, with traditional architecture to compliment the design. Patches of manicured grass littered the walk up, making it look homey. It seemed nice enough, but I learned a long time ago that just because something—or someone—looked pretty on the outside, didn’t mean they’d be just as beautiful within.
I’d been standing outside for a while now, like a statue on the concrete. Drunks and tourists walked by with beer bottles in their hand, straight from their boozy brunches. My car was parked precisely two blocks away. I could run to it, get inside, and use the last thirty dollars my brother sent me to fill up the tank and get the fuck out of here.
“You gonna stand out here all day?” a voice asked. The smooth, Southern drawl was laced with skepticism. My hard stare flickered to the doorman of the building, and I had to cup my palm over my eyes to shade my light-sensitive gaze from the beaming rays of sunshine over us. I’d caught the older, slender man staring at me multiple times, trying to gauge if I was trouble or not. I guess I did look suspicious, standing out here while deciding what I wanted to do with my life.
Mama always said I was too much of a thinker, was too stuck in my own head to make a decision and commit to it. I guess I got that from her. She never stuck with anything. My, she’d be shocked to hear I managed to drive all the way here. Too bad I couldn’t rub it in her pretty little face.
“I’m trying to decide if I want to go inside,” I offered back with an honest shrug. Maybe if this man called the cops on me, I’d have another day to process everything before meeting Lance. I’d been trying to give myself excuses for the last three weeks: I didn’t have enough money, my ’97 Corolla wasn’t able to make the drive, my heart wasn’t able to handle the rejection. What if Lance didn’t like me? What if he kicked me out? It wouldn’t be the first time someone charitable turned out to be a snake. Mama was always the one that let others fix her problems, not me. And yet, here I stood.
The doorman was wearing a black suit and a striped red tie with a name tag perched on his chest. Cornelius was his name. It suited him, I decided. He had a proper air about him, and stern eyes with a kind, wrinkled smile. Something about his stance told me that he took his job as a doorman very seriously. “You know someone in the building?” he asked while nodding toward the glass door.
What a fucking loaded question. Did I know Lance? No. No, I didn’t. I didn’t even know he existed until Mama informed me on her deathbed. One minute, I was holding her hand, forcing tears to fall from my eyes while the nurses looked on with pity. The next, I was being