When Lotto is five minutes from home, she can’t bring herself to take those final steps that lead back to her cage. Pushing down the fear and ignoring the shaking of her hands, she walks toward the soda shop that she usually wants to avoid at all costs. Too many people. Boys and girls, all childhood friends. Smiling and laughing with a carefree attitude. Walking and talking down the street, taking their freedom for granted. Interacting with these strangers is out of the question. Arriving at her destination, Lotto feels her heart rate speed up. She finds a bench across from the soda shop to sit down.
The soda shop used to be a fast food drive thru with a window on the left hand side of the building. That window has been taped up for years now and the only way to get food is to walk in. The owner of the soda shop still tries to invoke the 50s theme from when it was originally built, with servers on roller skates. They wear all white, boys wearing knee length cotton shorts and collared polos while the girls don white peter pan blouses knotted at the belly button and tennis skirts barely covering their bottoms. Every one of them wears white chef hats. Sodas are served with any flavor you want: grape, cherry, chocolate, etc. The top half of the building is one big window; cooks, customers, and busboys swimming from side to side, like a fishbowl. From the outside the diner appears to accommodate many, you enter and the size is reduced in half, like a rear view mirror. There are six plastic cherry red cushioned booths and a 15 foot long plastic counter that separates the dining area from the kitchen. They all provide comfort, a place for meals, and room for a busboys’ bin that holds dishes and milkshake glasses. The counter seats up to 10 people with its spinning metallic colored seats.
Lotto scans the crowd but doesn’t linger on anybody specific, wanting to avoid eye contact. A group of four girls occupy one of the booths. They are laughing and talking over each other, gesturing with volume. They all have the same bright pink lipstick on and similar outfits consisting of tight fitting jeans, peasant blouses, and wedge sandals. Lotto wonders what it feels like to be a part of a group. She longs to have friends but knows she wouldn’t fit in. She looks down at her own clothes, her favorite hoodie not giving her its usual comfort. Her jeans look a little too loose and t-shirt like it would be more at home on a 12 year old boy. As she continues to pick at her appearance, she sees the most beautiful boy she has ever seen arguing with an equally gorgeous girl. Lotto doesn’t think she has seen a better looking couple, even in the magazines she reads at the library.
The boy is tall but lanky. His skin is surfer boy tan with white blonde hairs dotting his arms. His hair is golden brown, long and shaggy. His clothes have an understated coolness that comes from not trying. He is slacker preppy with baggy khakis and a belt with a metal slide buckle, and a stark white button down shirt that’s tucked half in and half out. He is wearing navy blue Vans that are suede with white trim, and a white tee under his button down.
His companion is dressed what Lotto would call quirky. She is wearing a tight fitting and loud leopard printed top with solid bright pink pants. Her hair is white blonde with dark brown layered underneath. Her bright pink lipstick matches her pants and she is carrying a clutch that is more a work of art than something to put your makeup in. Lotto has never seen anyone dress like the girl. She can’t decide if that is a good or a bad thing.
Lotto is so busy assessing the couple that she doesn’t see until the last minute that they are walking towards the bench. The girl is walking with her head high and nobody will stop her. The boy is behind her, half walking/half running. By the time she sees them, they are only a couple feet from her and a quick getaway is not an option. She tries to make herself smaller by hunching her shoulders over and staring at her feet. She knows she is doomed when she sees both sets of their shoes in front of her own. She breathes in through her nose and out through her mouth. Sitting on her hands doesn’t stop the shaking. If the shaking before was a ride on a train, they are now 7.5 earthquake tremors. Her legs move, not able to contain her hands. When a manicured tip of a nail makes contact with Lotto’s shoulder, she knows the jig is up. She pulls the band aid off and jerks her head up.
When Lotto sees the boy up close, she sucks in her breath. If he was a nine at a distance, he is a 15 up close. His arms are sculpted perfection. His lips are soft and full. And his eyes are the color of chocolate caramel candy. A snicker pulls Lotto out of her head. The girl with him is chewing on her lip with a smirk on her face. “Are you okay?”, she asks with a teasing tone.
Lotto looks back at the boy and mumbles, “I like your shoes.” He gives her a warm smile and says, “Hey, thanks.” The girl touches Lotto’s hair and asks, “Where do you get that color orange?” Lotto instinctively touches the streak of flaming orange that covers her right eye if she doesn’t pin it back. It is the only thing that stands out in Lotto’s otherwise dull brown, thick, and detestable wavy mane. She can’t do anything about the orange, short of cutting it and Lotto hates it with a scathing passion.
Lotto doesn’t meet the girl’s eyes and defensively retorts, “I don’t put it in there. It’s just there.” The girl raises one eyebrow and says, “Cool. I’m Erin and this is my brother Ned. What’s your name?”
Taking a cue from Erin’s warm tone, Lotto relaxes and answers, “Lotto.”
Ned asks, “Really? That’s a weird name.” Lotto lets out a “I know” and leaves it at that. Erin sits down next to Lotto and continues to probe.
“We have never seen you here before. Do you go to Barrett? We are juniors there.” Lotto shakes her head and says, “No. I’m home schooled.” When Ned takes a cue from his sister and sits on the other side of the bench next to Lotto, she wills her body’s senses to shut down. She is afraid of how her body will react if she even gets a whiff of his scent. Her eyes are still trying to catch up.
Erin keeps talking. “Home school, huh? That stinks. School is school but at least we get to hang out with our friends.” When Lotto stays silent Erin asks, “So what grade are you in? You look like you are our age.” Lotto looks at Erin questioningly and says, “I don’t know. I just do the work I am given and turn it in when I am done.”
Erin accepts that and says, “Oooookay. I guess that’s enough of the Spanish Inquisition. We have to go home. Want to hang out Friday night? You look like a cool chick. We usually meet here at 9 pm.” Lotto shakes her head no and replies, “I can’t.” When Ned touches Lotto on the shoulder her body betrays her and goosebumps make their way down her arm. He tells her in an urging tone, “Come on, it will be fun.” Lotto feels her resolve going by the wayside. She doesn’t know how she is going to do it, but she can’t say no to this boy and his overeager sister.
“Okay.” Erin and Ned both jump up at the same time and wave goodbye. Lotto watches them until they turn the corner and they are out of sight. After making sure she can walk and her legs won’t give out on her, Lotto starts the trek home. She tries not to skip.