The gossip in the time-clock line claims someone found a bullet casing this morning.
“Not true,” Jess whispers, watching the trail of ants winding along the baseboards toward concessions to reach the syrup puddling beneath the soda fountain that’s been leaking ever since she’s worked here. “Haven’t they seen cop shows? No way they’d miss that—they need it for evidence.”
“Right,” Brooke agrees, but Jess suspects her attention is on talk of blood-stained cloth seats replaced with faux-leather the days following the shooting when the theater was closed.
Jess clocks in, amazed nobody is talking about how overwhelmingly the same everything is. She’s frozen here holding the same time card she held before all those people died—they’re still in the same pay period as before bullets shredded people’s organs—until Brooke unfreezes her, plucks the time card from her fingers and hands her a broom and dustpan, steers her into the hall where they join other ushers waiting for theater seven to let out.
Managers keep the weirdos behind-the-scenes cleaning theaters between showings. The weirdos include Brooke, who’s way too obsessed with old Winona Ryder films, and Jess by association. Other weirdos: the girl who eats half-finished candy she finds under seats, guys with painted fingernails, and amateur movie buffs who never went to college or only briefly, returned film-school dropouts. Jess is relieved to be among weirdos; if anyone feels this suffocating sameness, surely it’s them.
“But since he offed himself,” Brooke says, “maybe they weren’t as thorough about evidence? It’s not like there’ll be a trial.” She stretches, her shirt riding up to reveal her newest stick-n-poke, and Jess realizes Brooke is playing it cool, that she’s absolutely enamored with all of this—soaking up details of the shooting they missed because they’re minors and not allowed to work midnight premieres. Brooke doesn’t run from things that can kill her; she tattoos them on her body: peanut, bumblebee, the chemical compound for penicillin. Last month she added a peach—which Jess is pretty sure purposefully looks more like butt cheeks—a new allergy that landed her in the hospital for two days. Lately, Brooke has been obsessed with peach rings, keeps them in her pockets to snack on during their shifts; even though Jess checked the ingredients—no actual peaches—the whole situation makes her feel like throwing up.
The weirdos act like the shoot-em-up sounds emanating from theater six aren’t bothering them.
“How is it okay to play that movie here?” Jess mutters.
“The odds of it happening at that movie at this theater twice in one week are beyond astronomical,” a film-school dropout says. “Besides, nobody shoots up a weekday matinee.”
So other people feel it, Jess understands; they simply come to work like normal after people had their skulls blown off here, and choke on all this sameness in silence.
Theater seven’s doors open. Jess hears the end credit song of the latest animated movie voiced by celebrities who should’ve stuck to live action; families enjoying summer break stream into the hallway. Jess can’t believe parents brought children to this place where people suffocated on their own blood.
Jess and Brooke got this job to pay for their senior field trip to DC next semester, but because they work at a movie theater, they might end up dead before then, which could also happen literally any day at school, and if they do make it to their senior trip, they might have their guts splattered across DC if they happen to be there on the wrong day.
Brooke tugs Jess into the semi-lit theater seven where chit chatting ushers collect trash. Someone chucks a cup across the theater into the side of the trash bin, exploding soda everywhere. Despite seeing what happened, Jess’s heart pounds, and she drags Brooke to the floor with her, picturing warm blood pooling around their cooling bodies.
While everyone else laughs, Brooke pulls Jess upright. “Come on,” she says. “Let’s take a break.”
Only smoke breaks are allowed outside officially scheduled breaks; in case a manager comes looking, they keep a lighter and a few bummed cigarettes in an old Altoids tin where they sit behind the theater, legs stretched across the sidewalk, heels of their shoes resting in a patch of grass.
“Am I the only one who feels literally sick about how the same everything is?” Jess asks. “Like, people died, but everything is still just happening. Do you feel like that?”
“Yeah,” Brooke says. “I feel like that every single day.” She leans forward, stretches her fingertips toward a bumblebee circling some clover flowers. “Honestly, it’s like the only thing I ever feel.”
Jess pulls her legs to her chest, rests her chin on her knees.
Brooke swoops her hand absently toward the bee, the motion like catching a wave of wind outside a car window.
“Careful,” Jess says, wondering how much of Brooke’s nonchalance about these things is for show. “It’s horrifying, actually, the way everyone is acting normal in there. I can’t do it.”
“So don’t,” Brooke says. She lunges forward, clenches her fist. “Agh!” Her eyes scrunch shut and she releases the bee, clutches her hand to her chest.
“What the hell!” Jess screams as Brooke begins to wheeze. Brooke slumps toward her, and Jess searches her friend’s pockets for an EpiPen she doesn’t find. “Help!” she calls to anyone.
A family rounds the corner. Jess watches the mother shift a toddler into the father’s arms before running toward them.
“Nine-one-one,” Jess pleads as Brooke loses consciousness. She rolls Brooke to her side, cradles her head in her lap. Wiping chunks of peach rings and bile from Brooke’s mouth, Jess’s heart races. She thinks through the emergency steps she’s memorized, grabs Brooke’s limp wrist, and tweezes the stinger from her palm with her fingernails. The mother gives dispatch their location, and as Brooke’s lips swell, Jess is overtly aware everything and everyone inside the theater are just the same as they will be tomorrow.