Saturday, November 01, 2014

The Parade: Part III, Behind The Star

The Parade
Part III
Behind the Star
As Jackie entered the Star diner, she was pummeled by a wall of sound.  The dinner rush had come early and the restaurant was full.  A coffee maker at the far end of the bar gurgled and hissed as it finished making a pot of its dark elixir.  In the kitchen, Abe was busy filling orders.  She could see his arms rising and falling behind a wall of steam as he flipped burgers, pulled plates, and dropped baskets into the deep frier.  He placed several full plates in the window behind the bar and yelled, "Order up!"  The television over the bar blared and all around her different conversations merged with the clatter of plates and silverware. Ruby smiled at her as she rushed by with a cup and a pot of coffee.  Jackie waved and moved closer to the bar.

"...and coming up on channel five news - Are you looking for a good scare this Hallo-weekend? We'll give you a listing of the best haunted houses and trails in the tri-state area...and if you haven't carved your Jack O Lantern yet, we'll tell you the best places to shop for that last minute pumpkin.  Later we'll be speaking with federal authorities about the nationwide manhunt that continues for convicted serial killer Doctor Theodore Mars.  Dr. Mars escaped from federal custody in February of this year and has eluded federal authorities si-"

Ruby came up behind her and gave Jackie a quick squeeze.  Jackie smiled and returned the hug.

"Get you a tea to go baby.  You wanna wait for Samuel out back?  I'm gonna need all my seats.  They all came early tonight!  He should be back any minute."  She moved behind the bar, returned the coffee pot to its holder, and grabbed the plates from the window.  "Come by and see me before the parade tomorrow baby!"

"Thanks Mrs. Grier!  I will!"  Jackie filled up a styrofoam cup and grabbed a lid and a straw.  She moved behind the bar and through the kitchen to the backdoor.  As she backed out the door she waved to Abe and sipped her tea.

"Hey Miss Jackie!"  He smiled and raised a spatula to her.

Jackie sat on the back steps and dug into her backpack.  She withdrew her pack of cigarettes and before she realized it she had put one in her mouth.  She broke it into pieces and threw it across the asphalt.  She turned away from it to face the street.

Sitting on the asphalt at her feet was Abe's ashtray.  It was full of butts and reeked of burning.  She grabbed her backpack and tea and walked across the street to the opposite curb.  She sat down on the curb.   She had a clear view of where Sam always parked his moped.

She had hoped that Sam would be at the diner when she arrived.  She didn't want to be alone right now.  She still didn't know if she wanted to tell him or even if she could.  She felt the tears welling up again.  She clenched her teeth against them and began tapping her foot.  Jackie always smoked more when she was stressed.  Her need for a cigarette burned within her now.

She watched the cars on the other side of the restaurant as their silhouettes dashed between the buildings.  Their movement disturbed leaves from where they had accumulated at the curbsides.  She took a full drink of her tea and let the whoosh of their passing soothe her.

Jackie closed her eyes.  She let her breath slowly fall in rhythm with the noise of the car tires and she felt her stress immediately lessen.  She sat for long minutes in the warm afternoon sun.  It angled across her face and turned the darkness behind her eyelids red.

Beneath the car noises Jackie heard a faint noise, a high pitched wheezing.  She opened her eyes.  It came again.  It had the rhythm of an animal panting but it sounded more akin to air escaping from a leaky tire.  She stood up and listened more intently.  She turned around several times but still she could not place it.  There was a brief lull in the traffic and she became aware that the wheezing was coming from her left.  There was a sewer grate about six feet away.

Jackie stood and took two steps towards the grate.  Among the leaves scattered across it, she thought she saw movement.  She moved closer.  Jackie could not make it out.  A shape under the grate shifted and skittered deeper into the shadows.  From within the hole echoed a distant scream, somewhere between the howl of a cat and the twittering of a bird.  Jackie shivered.  She imagined the corpse ghost of Lucy the dog haunting the sewers just beneath her.  A stench suddenly assaulted her.  It reminded her of the thick fishy smell of antifreeze leaking from an overheated car.  Jackie retched slightly and covered her mouth as she backed away.

"Wassup HOOKAH!"

Suddenly a tall figure in a zombie mask jumped in front of her.  Its arms were raised as it rushed at her.  Jackie screamed and flailed at the figure.  Reflexively, she punched for the groin area and made solid contact.  The figure dropped to its knees with a whimper.  It was her friend Eric.  He curled into a ball and rolled onto his side and moaned.

"OH MY GOD, Eric I am so sorry!"  She reached to comfort him.

"Don't touch me!  Don't touch me."  He raised a hand to ward her away.  "I just need just a minute...just a minute."  He took several deep breaths.

"I am SO sorry!  You really scared the crap outta me!"

"I suppose I deserve this.  No one deserves this."  He coughed and smiled weakly. "I wasn't really gonna be using my testicles anyway."  They both laughed.  He pulled his zombie mask off and slowly sat up.  Jackie helped him right himself and sat next to him.  Besides Sam, Eric was her only other balm at Rivercross High.  He was her best friend and unbeknownst to most of Rivercross, gay.  She offered him some of her tea.

"I really am sorry, but you really did kind of deserve it."

"It's Halloween tomorrow!  Everybody gets at least one good scare, hunh?!  What was in the grate?"  He took several sips from the straw and handed it back to her.

"Nothing...probably a rat.  I dunno.  I'm just having a weird bad day."  Eric wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close.

"Huggs are free, but nut punches are gonna cost ya...a LOT!"  They laughed again.  Eric always made her feel completely at ease.  She had always felt that she could tell him anything without fear of judgement.  She felt it dancing then, just behind her lips, like the inhale from from a cigarette held too long.  Her tears and hopelessness and that damning brown bag wanted to be free.

Jackie opened her mouth to speak when she heard the faint "meep meep" of Sam's moped horn.  Sam pulled in behind the Star Diner and waved to them both.  They ran to greet him.

When she got close to Sam, she began to cry.  She dropped her backpack and ran into his arms and kissed him hard on the mouth.  He started at first but returned her passion and held her tightly.  In that moment she could see it.  Tomorrow.  It would be okay tomorrow.  If he could just hold her.  None of it would matter...not the pregnancy, not her parents, and not even this stupid town.  It would all be okay.

"Not that I'm complaining, but what was that?"  Sam pulled back and looked at her.  He lightly kissed her again and wiped her tears away.

"I missed you.  Like I said earlier, it's been a stupid day."

"Did you fight with your dad again?"

"Something like that."  Jackie looked away.  She wasn't going to tell him...not yet, not today.  She just wanted one more day in his arms before everything became complicated and horrible.  She would wait until tomorrow...until after the parade.  She just wanted one last day to be normal and to not last day before it all melted into mud and recrimination.  Eric moved in close and hugged them both.

"Sorry to intrude on your moment there guys, but I gotta run!  We've got one more practice before the parade tomorrow and if I do not have my shit together, director Morrison is gonna kill me!  Later Hookahs!"  Eric played French horn in the Rivercross Raiders marching band.  They were marching as part of tomorrow's festivities.  He put on his zombie mask once more and stalked stiff legged around the corner of the building.  "bbbbaayyyyeee."

"Bye!"  They both laughed.  Ruby appeared in the back door.

"Come on Sam.  I got two orders getting cold in here.  They're already bagged and ready to go.  Come on!"  She waved for Sam to enter.  "Sorry Jackie, sweetheart, it's just one of those nights."

"It's okay Mrs. Grier.  I need to get going anyway."  She squeezed Sam's arm and kissed him on the cheek.   She leaned in and whispered in his ear.  "I'll call you later.  Love you!"

"Ditto!"  Sam smiled his wide beautiful smile and returned her kiss.

She picked up her backpack and moved to her bike.  Jackie pushed off towards home and for the first time all day she felt that she could actually see a tomorrow where Rivercross didn't matter.

Rivercross didn't matter at all.


{4x4, 8x2.665 created in Adobe Photoshop}

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Eddie said...

Really enjoyed the very first paragraph as Jackie entered the diner. All the sights and sounds really flowed well and coalesced nicely to compose the busy atmosphere.

Also like the whole "main character missing and/or not giving much thought to important information because they're too wrapped up in their own problems" thread that's running throughout in the story so far. Classic tension building vehicle.

Jesse Campbell said...

Thanks on the first scene - I needed to get that scene in one shot because in the plot we weren't spending much time there. I used all the time I've spent in Waffle Houses as reference. :-)

I'm glad that bit is still enjoyable. I've been trying not to be too terribly obvious on the overlooked important incidents but that is kind of the point of this sort of story so... I'm also trying hard to be different from NOTC as well. I don't want to just write the same story over and over.

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