Lonnie's voice startled Juju. She had been sleeping—catching a wink, as her mama used to say—but at the sound of Lonnie's voice she jerked her head up and blinked away the confusion. "What?"
"I said we out of beer. Why is that?"
Juju sighed. If there's a hell, she thought, this has to be it.
Lonnie stood in the kitchen doorway, wearing a stained tee shirt and baggy shorts that hung down below his knees. Two little stick legs poked out from the bottom of the shorts, and even though she was more than fifteen feet away from him, she could still smell a composite of motor oil, grease, and sweat.
Lonnie was always asking why. Why didn't she have dinner ready at five o'clock? Why didn't she pick up some toilet paper at the store while she was out? Couldn't she see that she had used up the last roll? Why didn't she wash his shirts like he asked? Only, when she pointed out that he didn't tell her he was out of shirts, he just asked why he had to tell her. They put their dirty clothes in the same pile, didn't they?
And now here he was, at it again, asking why they were out of beer.
"'Cause you drank it all, that's why."
He looked back at her like she was an idiot child and him her frustrated parent. "Well there you are. Just goes to show you. That GED comes in handy for something more than just waitressing tables and talking to horn-dogs, now don't it?"
She looked away. It wasn't an ideal job, she knew, not even one she talked about. In fact, when some of her friends asked what she did for work, she would just tell them, "Oh, a little of this, a little of that." She would never tell them she waitressed tables at The Palomino. They would think she was lying, that she was really one of those girls who took off her clothes, did little private dances so men could... well be nasty-old-men. But Juju was not one of those girls. She never took off her clothes for anyone other than Lonnie. And even then, she didn't like doing that much these days.
"No, what I'm asking," Lonnie said now, still going on about his needs, "is why you didn't buy any more beer on your way home. You pass right by the store before you get on the bus, right?"
Juju took in a deep breath and let it out. There was the why again. Some days, it was like an annoying cricket.
"You make the money," she said, feeling the anger well up within her. "You even got the car. So why don't you drive on down to the Pit Stop and buy it yourself. It's not like you do anything else around here."
He shook his head. "Girl, you get smart with me one more time, we gonna do the rumble."
The Rumble. In addition to always asking why about everything, Lonnie also had a way of saying things without saying them. Like when he went out with his friends to get drunk, he'd say he was going to help the boys put out the fire. Or when they would all meet up at the public courts to play some basketball, he'd tell her they were going to the dance. As if they were Kobe or Lebron, and the whole world was tuned into their game. And when he threatened to hit her, he always called it doing the rumble. As if the band was about to strike up a tune, and they were going to tango the night away.
Juju gave Lonnie a hard look. Five years she had put up with him. Five years of the yelling. Five years of ordering her around like he was some patron at a strip bar she had to serve with a smile if she wanted a tip. Five years of the occasional beatings when he was drunk, or just plain pissed off. Five years...
Well, that was enough. Even the ladies at the bar had said so over the last year and a half—told her to quit him, just walk through the door and keep on walking, never look back. But what if he got mad about that, and beat her up again? Then you teach him one, they told her. Wait 'till he's asleep or ain't looking, and teach him to never hit you again.
With all the anger that burned in her stomach, Juju said, "I ain't your maid. I'm not here to just wash your linens, fix your dinner, or spread my legs when you want it. And I'm certainly not here to make beer runs. You want something to drink, then—"
Man he was fast. Juju's sentence lodged in her throat like an over-sized bite of cheeseburger. She couldn't finish it—she even felt paralyzed to move—as he jumped at her and flat-handed her across the face, hit her so hard Juju rolled over the armrest of the chair and fell on the floor. Sparks danced across her eyes, and her skull resonated with a high-pitched ring.
A moment later, the taste of blood in her mouth, her face on fire, Juju looked up at Lonnie.
"Don't say I didn't warn you," he said. He turned and walked back to the kitchen. "Now go on. Go on and get me some beer."
Five minutes later, Juju stood at the front door, her purse strung over her shoulder. She didn't know anything about showing Lonnie not to hit her anymore, but she did know how to walk and keep on walking. All that time at the bar, bringing home tips but never turning over everything to the abusive fool, she imagined now was as good of a time as any. She put her hand on the doorknob and turned it.
She never looked back.