With AJ and Corey off in the wilds of Boston - or Cambridge, Corey had been very particular about that when she'd written to the store to assure them all that everything was fine there - and Gina busy with her new band, well, it was a lot quieter around the store. Not too quiet though, since Mark still worked there, which guaranteed early morning moshing now that Gina was rarely there to veto. Deb did not mind the morning moshing. She'd suggested to Joe that they make it a scheduled event, try to drum up business by advertising to the early bird metal heads. Joe had not gone for it, but he didn't stop it either.
Deb watched from the tills as Mark and Warren threw themselves at a handful of regulars, knocking over a display of Michael Bolton CDs. She had a bizarre urge to glue it all down where it had fallen. When the moshing was over and some far more sedate King Missile was playing instead Deb took Warren by the elbow and handed him a clipboard.
"Okay, so, this is the inventory," Deb told him. Warren gave her a look and Deb gave him one back. "Don't get fresh with me or I'll break your kneecaps."
Warren took the clipboard. "So what the hell do I do with it?" he asked, sneering down at the columns of letters and numbers. Because of course full titles and artist names would be too easy, so everything had codes you had to decipher, like ancient hieroglyphs without a Rosetta stone to help.
"You walk around the store and make sure the numbers on this column match the numbers in stock. They won't. They never do. Because of shoplifters."
Warren rolled his eyes and headed off on his new quest. Deb considered taking a break, but it wasn't like she needed one this early. She joined Mark up at the registers and tidied up the point-of-sale stuff around the counter. She'd just decided to send Mark on a break when Joe came out of the back and walked over.
"Hey, Deb? Can you come out back to the office?"
Deb frowned. "Joe, I'm working."
"It's important, Deb. Come on."
Deb followed Joe into the back and up to his office. Lucas was at AJ's old worktable, putting together an order. He wouldn't meet her eyes as she walked in.
Once in Joe's office, Joe left the blinds open but shut the door.
"Come on, Joe," Deb said. "I haven't been late, I haven't been over or under. Is this about Warren? Because I swear, I haven't heaped any abuse on him whatsoever and he totally hasn't fucked up more than a handful of times."
"No, it's not about any of that," Joe assured her. "Deb, I just got a call from the police. They were looking for you. They wouldn't tell me what for so I said you weren't here yet and I'd have you call when you got in. Are you in trouble?"
Deb kicked at the worn carpet in front of Joe's desk, then shook her head. "No. I'm over 18, I don't do any drugs, I don't drink, I don't even have any unpaid parking tickets."
Joe watched her and Deb resisted the urge to storm out of his office. She was sure he believed her. He always believed her and it was all the truth anyhow.
"It's probably about my mom," she muttered. "I'll call. I swear, Joe."
Joe nodded and left her in the office so she had some privacy.
The number the cops had left was someone's desk phone, not the general station number. It rang twice and a woman's voice answered.
"Hey, my name's Debra Miller? Someone called for me at work."
"Ms. Miller, thanks for calling back." The voice on the other end of the line was business-like and efficient. Deb hated her immediately. She sounded like a cross between Corey and every social worker Deb had ever known. And she was still talking. "Ms. Miller, it seems your mother is currently in the hospital after a car accident. You were the only family we could locate for her."
Deb didn't answer at first. She stared at the top of Joe's desk. It was covered in little dings and divots where he'd hit it with drumsticks or other, heavier implements. She ran her fingers over one of the divots and sighed.
"Yeah, well, I'm all she's got. What happened?"
"I'm afraid I don't have the details, but she wasn't driving. The driver was arrested at the scene."
"Good riddance," Deb muttered. "Do you have a number? Is she under arrest?"
"I have a number, yes, and no, she's not in trouble."
"Small mercies," Deb said and instantly regretted it. That was something her mother said.
She called the hospital next and was quickly transferred to her mother's room. How she was going to pay for the stay was a mystery. Neither of them had any insurance.
"Mom?" Deb said. "It's me. What happened?"
"Debra?" Her mother's voice was tired and sad and exhausting. Deb laid her head down on Joe's desk to listen. "Oh, Debra. Jack was all wrong for me. Just like you said. Can you come pick me up?"
"Sold my Vespa," Deb sighed. "Mom, look. It'll be great to see you, I swear. But I've got stuff going on. It's been six months. I've got a roommate. I've got a boyfriend. I've got responsibilities."
Her mother started to protest. It was almost an exact repeat of what she'd said the last time this had happened. And the last time it had happened Deb had buckled and gotten a cab, shown up at the hospital to get her mother discharged. She was never at fault. She was never in trouble. Except she was always in trouble. Deb ran one hand over her head. She'd kept the bald thing going. She was thinking about getting a new tattoo. Something that would always be there even if she let her hair grow back.
"Mom?" she said, stopping her mother's protests in their tracks. "Mom, call me when you've got your shit together. I'm still working on mine." And she hung up.
"Hey, Deb?" Joe asked as Deb emerged from his office. "Everything okay?"
Deb shook her head. "Nope. Situation normal: All fucked up."
"You need to go home?"
She shook her head again. "Nah. It's not my situation. It's not me that's fucked up." She went over and shoved Lucas over on his stool, stealing half of the tiny seat. "Hey, Joe, think you might need a new artist for the signs and banners? I'm no AJ, but I'm no slouch either."
Joe shrugged. "He left all his stuff. Knock yourself out."
Deb smiled and jostled the stool. Lucas grinned at her. "Finally tell your mom to fuck herself?"
"Not in so many words, no. But yes. I did."
Lucas got up and grabbed another stool, moving to the corner of the table. "Well, go on. Make art, Debra. Make your mark on the world."
Deb laughed and went to raid the art supplies. The first thing she was going to do was design a tattoo for her head. The second thing she was going to do was make her mother a Get Well Soon card. With a giant middle finger on the front.
"Hey," Warren said from the doorway. "You know half this shit isn't there."
Deb looked up. "Shop. Lifters," she and Lucas said at the same time. "Get back to work. I'm busy."