Matt sat at the bar in Henry's in downtown Tontzville. He was nursing his seventh Jack and Coke. He had his hand resting on his head with his fingers in his hair. It had been two weeks since his Uncle John died and he had not gotten over it. Matt had been staying with his sister in Tontzville since the funeral and he hadn't set foot in Stull since the burial, let alone the Historical Society.
Matt spent his time shut up in his sister's apartment or at the bar, drinking to make his pain and failure stop nagging him. He finished his seventh drink and ordered his eighth. A girl sat down next to him and looked at him.
"What's wrong?" she asked him. "Looks like you lost your best friend."
"Close. Favorite relative. I'm the next one in line," Matt said.
"Next one in line for what?" the girl asked. Matt turned to look at her. She had beautiful golden blonde hair, big green eyes and freckles. She was wearing odd clothing, a thin blouse and a plaid skirt but Matt found her attractive.
"There is a curse on my family. No male member of my family has lived past 50," Matt said and realized that would've sounded better had he not been drunk.
"A curse, eh? Am I safe to talk to you?" the girl smiled.
"Probably. Women in my family tend to live to be 90 or older," Matt took a drink of his Jack and Coke. "Matt Stull," he extended his hand.
"Virginia Humphrey," she said as she took his hand.
Matt fumbled trying to get the door to his sister's house to unlock. Virginia giggled as Matt tried to prove he wasn't as drunk as he really was.
"Ssh! We don't want to wake up my sister. Or brother-in-law. Or niece. Or nephew."
"Why didn't we just go back to your place in Stull?" Virginia asked.
"I'm too drunk to drive that far and you said you didn't know how to to drive. Plus we lose time if we drive all the way to Stull."
Within half an hour, Matt and Virginia were in bed trying to keep quiet as they made love. Matt had remarked several times on how smooth and white her body was. She almost glowed in the moonlight as it shown down through the window.
When they were finished, they cuddled with each other until they rolled apart and fell asleep. When Matt woke up in the following morning, Virginia was gone. "She didn't seem like that type," Matt sighed. Matt left the guest room and went to the kitchen. Dennis was in there making a bowl of cereal. "Hey, I hate to ask this but have you seen anyone who doesn't live here wandering around?" Matt asked.
"You mean besides you?"
"Ha, ha. Yes, besides me."
"I thought I heard moans of pleasure emanating from the guest room--not your room, the guest room."
"Yeah. Unfortunately she bailed on me. I didn't get her phone number or address."
"Did you get her name?" Dennis asked.
"I did get that. Virginia."
"Virginia. That's a name you don't hear much anymore."
"At least it doesn't have random vowels hanging out like so many names these days."
Matt arrived at the Historical Society in a good mood. It was the first time he'd been there in several weeks. Frank was startled to see him.
"You're back?" Frank asked.
"I never left. I just stopped coming in."
"At any other job that would've gotten you fired," Frank pointed out.
"But this isn't any other job."
"It's good to have you back. With Katie's arm still wrapped up, we haven't really been able to do any field work," Frank said. "I got permission to go to Swissvale. I just have to call the guy before I leave for it so he knows I'm out there."
"That's great. We'll do that later. I got lucky," Matt blurted out.
"What? How old are you?"
"And she was so amazing and soft," Matt said.
"26, or...?" Frank continued but was interrupted.
"I wasn't able to get a phone number. She sneaked out while I was asleep."
"Ah, there we go."
"Is there any way you can find an address for her? You have the largest database of useless information I've ever known."
"I have information on who owns a property, not who lives at an address. I doubt that would be helpful to you. Besides, if she snuck out I'm sure she had a really good reason."
"No, she liked me. I could tell. She was different. A girl like her doesn't just hop into bed with anyone."
"Aw, it's cute you think that," Frank said. "Does she live in Tontzville? What's her name?"
"Really? That can't be right. I guess it's possible..."
"It can't be the same girl because it happened in 1912. In 1912, a girl named Virginia Humphrey was murdered in Tontzville by the man she was having an affair with. She was 20, he was 42. Murdered her in an alley in the middle of winter. It wasn't until his wife revealed she knew they were having an affair that the police began thinking he killed her. They originally thought some boxcar hobo. There's a plaque at 7th and Prospect dedicated to her," Frank pulled a scanned image of a newspaper from the early Twentieth Century on his computer and turned the screen slightly toward Matt.
There was a picture showing a snow-covered crime and a picture of Virginia. "That's her!" Matt shrieked. "That's her. There is no way that's a distant relative. I slept with a dead girl!"
"Technically, it sounds like you slept with her ghost. I've heard that Virginia's ghost wanders the area but I've never heard of her actually...doing anything with people," Frank said.
"Well, she did something with me! How can you even have sex with a ghost?"
"I don't know. I've never had sex with a ghost. What was it like?"
"I'm not telling you!"
"You were more than eager a couple minutes ago."
"That was before I knew I made it with a ghost!" Frank started laughing which made Matt a little angry. "You're loving this aren't you? I'm probably cursed now."
"Ah, you were cursed anyway. More than likely it was just a girl who looked like Virginia and used her name."
"But why would she do that?"
"So you couldn't hunt her down. So she can say she's not a whore, I don't know," Frank shrugged. "Just go with that you had a great one-night stand and move on. Here's an idea: let's go to Swissvale."
"Nah. I'm not in the mood to wander around an abandoned townsite right now," Matt said.
"At any other job I could just make you go out there," Frank said.
"But this isn't any other job," said Matt.
Frank returns to Rock Creek and Katie and Matt find the Old Stull Cemetery.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Friday, November 26, 2010
Friday, November 19, 2010
1. Eric Bader pulled his bicycle from the garage and looked around at where he lived, at the trees lining the streets and down the street at the next intersection. He hoisted his backpack onto his back and got on his bike. He pedaled down the street toward the UCLA campus, thoroughly enjoying the sun beating down on his wavy brown hair. As he went through campus he waved and smiled at the other students he passed until coming to a stop underneath a group of trees where Annie Smith, Ray Bevis and Andy Dumane were sitting.
“Are we still on for our trip to Mexico?” Eric asked as he skidded to a halt.
“Yep,” began Andy, standing up and stretching. “I’m gonna skip my afternoon classes today to take a nap and the three of us will pick you up at Starbucks at nine.”
“Awesome! This is going to be the best trip to Mexico ever!” Eric shouted and beamed with excitement.
“Isn’t this your first trip to Mexico?” asked Annie.
“My first,” Eric replied, still smiling.
“Well, I have a surprise for you when we get a hotel room. I’ll see you tonight, I have to get to class,” Annie said and walked away.
“Dude, she is totally going to sleep with you,” Ray said.
“Man, I hope so. It’s hard seeing her with all these other guys when I want her so badly,” Eric and his friends began walking toward one of the campus buildings. Eric always had a thing for Annie but she had resorted him to ‘friend’ and although there were sparks between them, they never acted on them.
It was an hour before Eric was supposed to leave for Mexico with his three best friends. He had already checked out and continuously stared into space whenever filling a coffee cup or wiping down a table.
The phone in the back rang and the shift manager Paolo Kelley answered it. “Eric Bader?” he confirmed. “Just a moment.” Paolo walked over to Eric who was staring at the TV which was on CNN. “Eric, you have a phone call.”
Eric arrived in back and picked up the receiver. “Hello?” he listened and the look on his face became more sullen as everything around him silenced and he just focused on that moment. He muttered something unintelligible and walked over to Paolo.
“Who was that, Eric?” asked Paolo, taking a cue from Eric and spacing out on CNN.
“It was my mom. I’m gonna need to leave early tonight and have the next couple of weeks off,” Eric revealed.
Paolo took his eyes off CNN and looked at Eric. “Why?”
“My father passed away.”
2. Centennial, Indiana was your stereotypical small town. Maple and oak trees lined the brick streets and the connected buildings of the downtown lined Main Street between Fifth and Seventh and Sixth between Fir and Cedar. It was a sickening quaint town with numerical streets running east to west and the names of trees, in alphabetical order running north to south.
Eric was sitting in the passenger seat of his sister April’s car and looked out toward the rolling fields and woodlands lining the highway. Except for the obligatory hellos at the airport, the car ride was completely silent. They entered the city limits of Centennial and she turned left onto the second street in, which was Grove Street. Two blocks later, she pulled into the driveway of their parent’s house. Eric pulled his suitcase out of the trunk and walked up to the porch where Eric’s mom rushed out and embraced him.
“Oh, Eric!” she cried.
Eric rolled his eyes and patted his mom on her back. “There, there. It’s okay,” Eric said, at a loss for anything else to say. Eric pushed his mom away toward April who had just ascended the porch steps. “Are the funeral arrangements all made?” Eric asked.
“No,” April began, “we were wondering if you would handle them because you have a better head for stuff like that.”
“What? I haven’t been home in three years. I have no idea what Dad was like since I moved to California!” Eric protested.
“Well, Mom is in no condition to do that and I have to get the word out to other family members and friends. And console our mother,” April said hugging their crying mom.
“Fine! Did Dad have a will or anything?” Eric asked as he went in the house. “Did he want to be buried, cremated, placed on the curb for the trash collectors?”
“Eric!” April snapped.
“Buried. In Mount Prairie Cemetery,” their mom sniffled.
“Okay, did you guys already buy plots or…”
“No…” she cried.
“All right, I need to call the funeral home and cemetery. Is next Friday all right for the funeral?” Eric asked, noting it was already Thursday and the next Friday would offer plenty of time for people to travel to Centennial. “Where’s Dad’s body? Never thought I’d have to say that,” Eric chuckled.
“At Montgomery Regional Medical Center in Gardner,” April answered sitting their mom down on the nearby couch.
“Okay, I’m going to the funeral home and get everything set up. I’m borrowing the car, Ma,” Eric took the keys off the hook by the door and left the house.
Eric pulled away from the funeral home and began driving around Centennial and noticing that not much had really changed in the last three years. A housing development was springing up on the northeast side of town. He didn’t recognize anyone walking through town but he figured most of the guys he went to school with were in jail and the girls were all pregnant and caring for their own children.
While Eric was stopped at Centennial’s very first, and only, stop light at Sixth and Main, he noticed a girl on the opposite corner walking away from the intersection. Eric made a left turn and slowly pulled up alongside the girl. The girl looked at the car following her and picked up her pace. She took one more look and saw Eric’s face.
“Eric Bader?” the girl approached the car. “What are you doing here? I thought you were in California.”
“I was…I am. I’m back in town for a family thing. Hop in, I’ll give you lift.” The girl, Crystal Mercer, opened the door and slid in.
It was nearly midnight when Eric walked in the door and saw April standing in the front room with her hands on her hips. “Where in the hell have you been?!” she shrieked.
“Well, first I went to the funeral home. The funeral is next Friday at 10 a.m. and the obit will appear in Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday’s paper and his casket is a beautiful white and gold with mahogany. After that I drove around town and ran into Crystal Mercer, remember her? Man, she’s cool. She has this birthmark on her upper thigh near her…”
“You had Mom worried sick! You are supposed to be organizing Dad’s funeral and you’re out picking up girls?” April scolded.
“Well this funeral has forced me to cancel my weekend trip to Mexico so it’s only fair I get something for having to interrupt my life!” Eric pushed past April and began walking upstairs. “I’m going to bed.”
“Damn it, Eric! Dad has died! You’re supposed to be in mourning!” April shouted.
“I am in mourning!” Eric yelled back.
3. The obituary read:
The funeral was also very nice and crowded as it seemed that everyone who Eric’s dad had walked past were at the funeral. Eric soon got sick of everyone offering condolences and offering advice or their own stories about losing a parent. Eric went outside during the gathering afterward and just sat on the sidewalk.
RANDALL E. BADER, 52, of Centennial died Thursday at Montgomery Regional Med Center in Gardner. Mr. Bader was born in Cincinnati, Ohio to David and Elaine (Brown) Bader August 16, 1953. Mr. Bader married Sheryl Ludwig on September 13, 1972. Mr. Bader was owner and operator of the Vagabond Bookstore in Centennial since 1977 but was previously employed with Hops-Star Dairy from 1972 to 1974 and Carrington Electric from 1974 to 1977. Mr. Bader was a member of the Knights of Columbus and Freemasons along with being an organizer of the Centennial Tree Street Festival from 1987 to 2000 and a city council member from 1992-1996.
Mr. Bader is survived by his wife and daughter, April, both of Centennial; 3 brothers; 1 sister; and a son, Eric, Los Angeles.
Family recommends condolenseces be sent in care of Baldwin-Lamb Funeral Home and memorial contributions be sent to either the Centennial Tree Street Festival Fund or to the American Heart Association in care of the funeral home.
“Are you Randy’s son?” a man asked.
“Yes,” Eric looked up.
“Hi, I’m Steven Niccum and I am your parents’ attorney. I was wondering when would be a convenient time to go over your father’s will.”
“He’s only been in the ground an hour and you’re worried about the reading of the will?”
“I do apologize but…” Mr. Niccum started but Eric interrupted.
“No need. How about Monday? The sooner I get out of this town, the better,” Eric smiled and shook Mr. Niccum’s hand.
On Monday, Eric, along with his mom, April and his aunt and uncles were sitting in Mr. Niccum’s office and reading over the will. Most everything went to his mom since she was still living but heirlooms from his parents went to his brother and sister. Eric mainly just sat there bored and rolled his eyes when someone cried.
“’…And my bookstore: The Vagabond. It’s been an important part of my life for nearly thirty years. I leave it to my son, Eric, who will run it for one week before doing what he wishes with it,’” Mr. Niccum read.
Eric sat straight up and looked at each one of his relatives. “What?” he asked. “I refuse to do it! I have to get back to L.A.”
“Eric,” April began, “it’s only a week. Honor Dad’s wishes and mind the store. After a week, you can do whatever you want with it.”
“I’m gonna sell it!”
“Eric…” one of his uncles began but Eric interrupted.
“It makes sense. That business is barely breaking even especially now that there are two mainstream bookstores ten miles away in Gardner. I don’t even know anything about running a business and I need to get back to school!” Eric slapped his hand hard on a side table and suddenly the office was silent and motionless.
Eric regained his composure and sat back in his chair. “I will do it,” he said poignantly. “But when the week is up, I am getting rid of the inventory and selling the building. My mind is made up and that’s the end of this discussion.”
The room stayed quiet for the better part of a minute then Mr. Niccum resumed reading the will.
4. Eric unlocked the door to the bookstore and walked in. The bookstore was crowded with bookshelves full of old and new books. The smell of paper, ink and dust filled his nose causing him to cough and then sneeze.
“I never realized this was such a hole-in-the-wall,” Eric said softly.
The door behind Eric opened and a booming voice echoed in the room. “You must be Randy’s son, Eric!”
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“I’m Alan Weaverly. I’m—I was,” Alan corrected, “your Dad’s business partner.”
“Business partner? Dad never told me he had a business partner,” Eric muttered but Alan still heard.
“Yeah, a couple years ago, when the second bookstore opened in Gardner, he needed some extra help so, being his best friend and believing it could work, I quit my job, took out a loan and became his partner. I’m only about 35 percent owner but Randy always treated me as equal.”
Eric didn’t want to reveal his plan to Alan quite yet so hesitated and asked a question. “Does anyone else work here?”
“Three other people. One to work the register, one to be what we call a ‘rover’ and one to operate the coffee nook,” Alan answered.
“No wonder this place hardly makes a dime if Dad was paying a wage to three worthless people,” Eric said as he headed to the back of the store where the office was located.
Alan ran his hand through his gray hair as he followed Eric. “They are not exactly worthless and a couple of them actually needed a job. Randy gave them a job—knowing he couldn’t really afford it—when no one else in town would.”
“Hmm, that’s great. Everybody has a sob story,” Eric flicked on the light to the office and noticed the crowded setting.
Two desks were pushed together and facing each other while dismantled shelves lay scattered against the walls and on the floor. Eric had to be careful where he stepped in order not to step on nail or screws.
“We never did get these shelves repaired…” chuckled Alan.
“Get them out of here!” Eric ordered.
“What?” questioned Alan.
“Gather up all the wood, nails, screws and all the other crap in here and throw it away! I want it all out of here by the end of today!” Eric said sitting in his father’s chair and looking very sternly at Alan.
“I can’t do it by myself. I’ll need help…”
“Then get one of our employees in here to help you,” Eric stood back up and proceeded to leave the office. “Have them actually earn their paycheck for once,” and Eric was gone.
Eric was behind the check-out counter on a stool in the corner reading East of Eden, which he had just grabbed off a shelf. A girl, Kaitlyn Jones, was also behind the counter but she was minding the cash register. Kaitlyn looked over occasionally at Eric until finally walking over to him.
Eric never flinched from the book as he answered her with a tone that would cause a lightening bolt to stop and turn around. “What?”
“I…I just wanted to offer my sympathies about your father. I know what you’re going through because I lost my grandpa a few months ago,” Kaitlyn said.
“You have absolutely no idea what I’m going through,” he still wasn’t missing a beat from his book. “A father and grandfather are two completely different mourning processes. Secondly, I didn’t ask for you sympathies and finally, you are in my personal space. Begone!” Eric raised his hand and waved her away.
Kaitlyn’s face went cross but she shrugged and walked over to the small coffee nook on the other side of the door. “What was his problem?” asked the boy behind the counter with a thick Russian accent.
“Well, I hope he’s just having difficulty handling the death of his father but a part of me just thinks he’s a jerk,” Kaitlyn smiled as she looked over at Eric. “Are Alan and Adam still cleaning out the office, Larry?”
Larry, real name Valeri Zakahrov from Kiev, Ukraine, leaned in and nonchalantly pointed to Eric. “Yes. According to Mr. Boss, they have to get the office cleaned by the end of today.”
“What a jerk! I don’t care if he is Mr. Bader’s son, he should not be treating Alan like a work horse.”
“We work in a clown car, guys,” Eric said from his corner, fixated on his book. “I could hear every word you just said.”
Eric locked the door to the bookstore and began walking away. Kaitlyn, Adam and Larry were still hanging around. Kaitlyn called over to Eric, “Hey, Eric. We’re gonna go see a movie. Do you want to come with?”
Eric turned around, casually eyed Kaitlyn’s small chest and scoffed. “No, I’m meeting an old girlfriend. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Eric turned back around and continued walking.
“You’re welcome,” Kaitlyn sighed.
5. Eric and Crystal were in her bed having sex. Her legs were raised in the air and both were moaning and panting heavily. “Don’t…don’t you need to…get to the store?” Crystal gasped as she sank her fingers into Eric’s arm and back.
“Screw ‘em. Right now, this is more important,” Eric leaned in, kissed Crystal, repositioned himself and began moving harder. “Besides, we all pretty much sat around yesterday anyway.”
When Eric finally arrived at the bookstore, everyone was impatiently waiting around the door. Kaitlyn and Larry were sitting on the one step and stood up as Eric fished the keys out of his pocket. “Where have you been?” Kaitlyn scolded.
Eric looked at Kaitlyn, then stepped back to look at the bay window with VAGABOND BOOKSTORE printed on it. He looked back at Kaitlyn and smiled. “Are you questioning why I’m late to open a store that I am owner and operator of?”
“Maybe I was just concerned or just curious. I wasn’t judging or criticizing but I was asking a very legitimate question,” Kaitlyn replied trying to hold back her anger.
“Well maybe you should mind your own business and stay out of my life just like I am staying out of yours,” Eric retorted.
“Listen, asshole! I have been nothing but kind and nice to you and you’ve been treating me—and everybody else—like shit! I don’t know what your problem is, little spoiled boy from Los Angeles, but you now have to grow up whether you like it or not!” Kaitlyn said.
Eric very calmly spoke. “Will the young lady from Indiana please shut up,” he suddenly threw the keys to Kaitlyn, pelting her in the chest. “Fine! I didn’t want to do this anyway! I’m glad I’m selling this dump. I’ll see you all later. You’re on your own!” Eric stormed away from where he came from leaving Alan, Kaitlyn, Adam and Larry alone on the sidewalk.
Alan found Eric in a bar called Cully’s Corner and sat next to him on a stool at the bar. “So what’s the problem?” Alan asked.
“Uh-oh! It’s Dr. Goodfriend the psychiatrist coming to offer me a session,” Eric said as he looked down at his glass of beer. “So how’d you find me?”
“Cully’s is the only bar still open in Centennial. Anyway, why are you like this? I remember when you were growing up you were such a happy and optimistic child. Then about 15, 16 you changed and became more withdrawn from family and friends and, from what I heard from your father, when you started UCLA you never came home for birthdays or holidays and never wrote anybody unless it was in an email. And now getting mad at some of the nicest people you don’t know when being late and not opening the store is your fault falls under the category of crazy. What’s wrong?”
“I don’t have to sit here for this,” Eric started to get off the stool.
“Yes you do because if something is wrong, I want to help. It’s the least I can do for your father,” Alan said.
“My father…” Eric began but left the end open.
“Are you mad because you had to fly back to Indiana to attend something as piddly as your father’s funeral?”
“No, it’s just…” Eric sighed heavily and continued, “he never saw me become anything. He always had such hope for me and…he never saw me grow up.”
“Don’t worry, he will,” Alan paused for a couple of beats. “You should give Kaitlyn and all of them a chance. They are the best people you’ll ever meet and, despite them being so young, I consider them friends.”
“I will. Thanks, Alan,” Eric said.
Alan got off the stool and began to walk away but stopped and placed his hand on Eric’s shoulder. “I was talking to your dad a couple days before he died and he just couldn’t stop talking about his son at UCLA. He had a twinkle in his eye and the biggest smile on his face. Boy, he was proud of you!” Alan placed the store keys on the bar next to Eric, clapped him on the back and left Cully’s.
Eric sat motionless until finally, Eric lowered his head and began to cry.
6. Eric and Alan were resorting the books on the shelf while Adam was opening boxes from the new delivery and Larry was over in the coffee nook polishing the coffeemaker. Kaitlyn came in, scowled at Eric and threw her book bag behind the counter. As she prepared to get ready for work she looked down onto the counter and saw a single white rose. “What’s this?” she questioned and held up the beautiful flower.
“A peace offering,” Eric began walking over to Kaitlyn. “Hope you don’t mind but I refuse to buy red roses. I just wanted to apologize for my behavior and attitude the last couple of days. I already have these guys’ acceptance, Ms. Jones, and I understand if you don’t accept my apology.”
“Of course I do,” she began and briefly smelled the rose. “I knew there was some good in your heart, Mr. Grinch,” she smiled.
Eric smiled back and looked down but kept his eyes on Kaitlyn’s face. Her short blond hair was illuminated by the big front window and Eric noticed, for the first time, just how beautiful she was. He blinked, cleared his throat and turned around. “And as another peace offering, I am offering up a trip to Gardner to bask in the glory that is Liberty Pizza—my treat.”
Everybody accepted and began talking to each other and then slowly resumed their work.
All five were gathered around a table at Liberty Pizza in Gardner. Eric was telling a story about him and his friends in California and everyone was listening intently and stifling laughter.
“And that is why my friend Ray’s apartment was raided by the ATF,” Eric finished. Everyone laughed loudly as Eric took a drink of his soda.
“See, Eric, you are a wonderful person to talk to,” Kaitlyn said. “So why were you in such a bad mood this week?”
“Because my father died the same day I was supposed to go on a road trip to Mexico,” Eric said casually.
“What?” Kaitlyn’s eyes opened wide and she looked at everybody else. “Seriously?”
“You’re dad was a good person,” Adam spoke up. “When my mom got sick I needed a job fast and Mr. Bader just hired me. My mom got better and is slowly starting to go back to work but I don’t want to quit. I can’t imagine my life without that store.”
“When my family moved here from Kiev, I knew very little English and I couldn’t find a job. One day I went up to Mr. Bader and asked for a job. He rejected me but took my name and phone number and a week went by and Mr. Bader called me to run the coffee nook. I was so grateful and I was able to learn some English and read American literature. He was a good man,” Larry said and looked solemn into his soda.
“Oh, man, it’s almost ten?” Alan suddenly spoke up. “I have to get going!” Alan excused himself from the table and everybody said some form of good-bye.
Everyone quieted down and looked at the various things around the restaurant. Eric groaned. “I should go to because I said I was going to meet a girl at eleven.”
“Not that girl who caused you to be late opening the store yesterday, right?” asked Kaitlyn getting up from the table.
“Yes, actually but it to tell her we’re not gonna see each other anymore,” Eric revealed which seemed to bring a brightness to Kaitlyn’s face.
Kaitlyn had ridden with Eric to Gardner and Eric was now dropping her off at her place. She didn’t immediately get out of the car but rested her hand on the door handle and looked as if she was deep in thought.
“Something wrong?” Eric asked.
“Yeah. Don’t you want to hear my sad story that caused your father to hire me?”
Eric looked at the clock on the dashboard. “I’m kind of running late…”
“I was two months pregnant and my fiancée was killed in a train accident. He worked for the railroad. Your father offered me the cashier job during my interview. It was only going to be a temporary thing but three years later, here I am.”
Kaitlyn opened the door, got out and attempted to shut the door before Eric spoke, “You have a three-year-old child?”
“No,” Kaitlyn looked into the car, “I had a miscarriage.” She shut the door and walked up the sidewalk to her house.
7. The rest of Eric’s stay flew by and Eric had kept his decision to himself but his mind was made up. In the meantime, Eric also had to deal with a blossoming relationship between him and Kaitlyn. They had gone out numerous times and watched movies at her place but both were still uncertain about their future.
Eric came out of the office and walked over to the counter. “Everybody, could you all gather up here?” he ordered. Everyone circled around Eric as he took a deep breath. “All of you are wondering what my decision is on the fate of the bookstore. I was essentially given free reign with the future of this store and when I heard I had to make this decision, I immediately decided to sell it and I have stuck with that decision.”
Everybody gasped and began talking to each other,
“Shut up. I have squared all this with my lawyer and everything is set up for the new owner to take over on Monday,” Eric continued.
“Are you going to tell us who the new owner is?” asked Adam.
“Yes. Alan Weaverly,” Eric announced and looked at Alan, “if you’ll have it.”
“Of…of course,” Alan seemed speechless. Eric handed the keys to Alan and he promptly took them.
“This last week has been great but I’m done. I’m out,” Eric threw up his arms as if in surrender. “She’s all yours, Alan.” And with that, Eric exited the store and began walking away.
Suddenly, Kaitlyn was next to Eric, grabbing his arm to stop him from walking. “What do you mean, you’re out?” she asked.
“I’m going back to California. There’s nothing for me here in Centennial, Kaitlyn.”
“What about us?” she asked.
“Look, I find you incredibly wonderful but I’m not the boyfriend type of guy. I’m happy with my station of life right now and I don’t want anything to mess up that happiness.”
“Then why did we go out and do all that stuff together?” Kaitlyn began to tear up.
“It was all for friendship. You were a great friend and I’ll never forget you but my life is in California, not Indiana,” Eric began backing away. “I’m sorry.”
Eric began walking away and Kaitlyn watched as Eric headed down the sidewalk. She then bounded toward him, spun him around and kissed him full on the lips. For a full minute they kissed and embraced, and then Kaitlyn pulled away. “I’m gonna miss you.”
8. Two months later, in California, Eric stopped his bike in front of Annie, Ray and Andy. “Are we still on for Mexico?” he asked.
“Yep. Unless another relative dies, Eric,” Andy said.
“Nope. Everyone was perfectly healthy when I emailed April yesterday.”
“Well, I’m gonna skip my afternoon classes so I can grab a nap then I’ll pick everybody up and grab you at Starbucks at nine, okay?” Andy organized.
“Months of anticipation for my first excursion to Mexico and it’s finally here…again.”
“Well that surprise I had for you during our first trip is still open if you want it,” Annie offered.
Eric’s smile soon turned into something else as he shook his head and looked apologetically at Annie. “I’m sorry but I’m gonna decline that offer if you don’t mind.”
“That’s fine. I understand. I’ll see you all tonight. I have to get to class,” Annie said and walked away.
“Dude! She was totally going to sleep with you!” Ray said.
“I know but since I came back from Indiana, the spark is gone,” Eric and his friends began walking toward one of the campus buildings. “I mistook lust for love and now I know what love really is and how it feels.”
“Man, what happened to you in Indiana?” asked Andy.
“Let’s just say I grew up,” and Eric picked up his pace as a smug look came over him.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
I just kind of ignored it because I had called them (left a message) and my son's mom called them (spoke with someone). Thinking it was taken care of, I went about my life until the state began taking money from my paychecks and began demanding money for back child support. Feeling this was unacceptable, I attempted to call and actually speak to someone. The first number I called was to the call center and they just took down my information, my story and nothing was solved. The next number was to the attorney in charge of the case, I left my information on the answering machine and never received a call back. Meanwhile, I went to SRS with a copy of the custody papers indicating that I had custody and child support is now supposed to be $0 and that was all I heard from them.
After a month or so of silence, I received another notice saying I owe back child support, money will be taken, etc. So my son's mom gave me the number directly to the lawyer. She said just speak to the receptionist and she'll transfer you directly to the lawyer. So I called the number and immediately got someone. I explained who I was and the issue and her response was "You'll need to call this number," and gave me the number to the call center that never calls me back.
I decided to forget the idiotic game of telephone tag and sat down and wrote a letter pointing out that I have custody, child support was reduced to zero and that I had been given the runaround by SRS and the lawyer's office. I also implied that what they were doing to me was discrimination and that the state, in these economic times, might not like to have a discrimination lawsuit on their hands. I sent the pertinent papers in and, what do you know, that got stuff done.
Soon after I got letters indicating they have updated the records and that child support is not owed. The reason I mention this is because I don't blame the actual lawyers or SRS employees that basically left me hanging in limbo. A lot of people are left hanging in limbo because there is just not enough money or employees to go around. It's really a sad situation but it happens. I'm mentioning this because for the first time in my life, I felt discriminated against. No one would call me back, no one would talk to me and it took a letter mentioning their possible discrimination and getting a lawyer along with the information to get anything done? Could I have gotten this cleared up without having to mention the supposed discrimination? Probably but maybe my letter will make them think twice before just automatically assuming every male that calls them is a "deadbeat dad" that shouldn't be allowed to have children anymore.
Shortly after the case was closed out, I received notification from someone, I can't remember in what state department saying that they were going to take me to court because of the child support they said I owed. I wrote them a letter with a copy of the court orders saying I don't owe anything with the letter basically saying everything is settled and that if I receive any more communication from them I would consider it harassment and that they would be hearing from my lawyer. So far, nothing. Again, could I have possibly just sent the court papers and be done with it? Probably, yes but I am a human being--and a responsible one and I truly felt like a second-class citizen. Why anyone would treat another human like that is beyond me but it's happened, people have been killed and wars started because of it.
I was asked at work what job I really would want. My answer was lawyer with an emphasis on father's rights. Yes, there are some pretty pathetic men out there but most of the men I know are decent guys but unfortunately the court system favors the mothers in custody cases, even if the mother can barely provide a roof over the kids head and move them around so much the kids live in 19 different places within their first five years of life.
Until next time, I remain...
Monday, November 8, 2010
“Oh my God! Jefferson?” she asked, her eyes lighting up along with her smile.
“Hey, babe,” I said, also smiling.
“Come in, come in. What are you doing here?”
“I moved back. Well, actually I live in Lawrence. Things didn’t really work out in New York,” I said as she ushered me over to the couch.
“Good. I’ve missed you and I always wondered why you never wrote me back.”
“I was extremely busy with work, my social life and my book,” I said.
“Oh, you’re writing a book?”
“Uh, no. I wrote a book. The Amazing Brayton Arnaz. It’s been out for a few months but it’s certainly no bestseller,” I said and realized how much I wanted to take her right here on the couch. “I would’ve actually stayed in New York but my fiancée cheated on me with my best friend so, for some reason, I came back here.”
“I’m glad you did,” Heather said putting her hand on my cheek. “I’ve missed you something awful.”
“I did, too…” I started to say but was interrupted by a baby crying in the back bedroom.
“I’m sorry,” Heather said getting up from the couch. “Joel is up.”
I got up from the couch and followed her into what used to be my room. “Joel? You have a son?”
“Yeah, he’s four months old,” Heather reached into the crib and brought up a cute little baby boy.
“So are you married or…” I asked.
“No, Joel is the product of a one-night stand and I don’t know who the father is. He keeps me up all night and working every day but I love him and that’s all that matters,” Heather said and cradled Joel in her arms as he quieted down.
“Joel. Huh,” I said. “That’s what I…”
“What you wanted to name your first son, I know,” Heather said. She stepped closer to me and looked up at me. “Do you want to hold him?”
“Yeah, sure. I guess,” Heather handed Joel to me and I very nervously and carefully cradled him. I looked down at him and smiled at Joel who tried reaching up at me. “Wow, this is kind of cool.”
“You look very natural holding him,” Heather said.
“Thanks, I think.” I replied, chuckling nervously.
“I need to get to bed,” Heather said. We had stayed up until almost one talking about what had happened in our lives. We put Joel to bed and I went to Lawrence and got some Chinese food.
“Yeah, I should get back to Lawrence. I was wondering if you’d do something with me tomorrow,” I said.
“I need to go to Topeka tomorrow and I don’t want to go alone.”
“What are you going to do?” Heather asked.
“A couple things I really should’ve done a long time ago. I was thinking,” I quickly the subject, “if Joel is four months old, you would’ve had to be pregnant before I left Baldwin,” I said.
“I was. It was my own secret. No one even really noticed until I entered my final trimester. It was hard but it was worth it.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“When I found out you had already made plans to leave and I didn’t want you to stay because of Joel.”
“I understand. Get some sleep. I’ll be here around noon to pick you up. We’ll make a day of going to Topeka,” I smiled.
“Yippee,” Heather joked. I walked to the door and unlocked it. “Wait! Since it’s late, you can stay here if you want.”
I looked at Heather and her sparkling eyes. “No, I need a change of clothes and I probably need to feed Shadow and I think it’ll be easier on both of us if I go home and we wait and see what’ll happen between us.”
“Since you left, I’ve stopped sleeping around and going out with Wanda which is why I had to quit Baker. You were all I wanted. I’m sorry it took so long for me to realize it.”
“It was my fault, too. Wasting my time with Maggie and Melissa when all I needed was right here,” I said. Heather began hugging me. From the bedroom, Joel started fussing and then crying.
Heather sighed angrily and pushed away from me. “Go. Maybe this was never meant to be. I’ll see you tomorrow, Jefferson.”
Heather went around the corner to the bedroom and I opened the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Heather.” I left the apartment and stood outside the door for a few second. “I love you, Heather,” I said softly. I slowly walked down the stairs and outside. I got in my car, started it and drove away.
Heather, Joel and I were in my car heading to Topeka on Highway 75. “Again, thank you for coming along,” I said.
“No problem. Besides work and the grocery store, I don’t get out enough so this is like a Hawaiian vacation,” she smiled.
“We’re going to a cemetery. I probably should’ve told you that,” I chuckled. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”
Another twenty minutes passed and we entered the cemetery. We parked and got out. Heather carried Joel as we trudged through the rows of stones. We stopped at one and I kneeled down beside it.
“Who’s this?” Heather asked.
“My best friend, Randy. I haven’t been out here to see him since the funeral. Everything that’s happened in Baldwin and New York made me realize that I took his friendship for granted—took everyone’s friendship for granted—and I’m never going to do that again,” I reached over and touched the headstone. “I never got a chance to say I’m sorry, Randy,” I wiped away a tear and got up.
Heather took my arm. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, there’s one more I need to visit. She’s over this way.” We walked through more rows and stopped.
“Here she is.”
“Who’s this?” Heather asked letting of my arm and shifting Joel to her other arm.
“My grandma. I’ve never been out to see her. One, because my family didn’t tell me, and two because I’m a horrible person,” I said.
“No, you’re not. You’ve been having a very busy life and I’m sure she understands,” Heather said as I kneeled down. She placed a hand on my shoulder.
I reached up and felt her fingers. “Hi, Grandma. I am so sorry that I never visited but I’m sure you’ve seen what’s gone on in my life,” I looked back at Heather and smiled. “This is Heather, my best friend and soul mate. She means a lot to me and I’m sure you would’ve loved her.”
“Do you want to be alone, Jefferson?” Heather asked, trying not to cry.
“Yeah, if you could come back in half an hour…” I gave Heather my car keys and stood up. “…I should be done here.”
“You take your time. I’m in no hurry. I’ll meet you down at the gate,” Heather kissed my cheek and started walking away. I turned back to my Grandma’s headstone and sat down cross-legged. Heather walked a few feet away from me, stopped and turned around. She smiled and a tear ran down her cheek. “Welcome home, Jeff,” she said and continued walking away.
Monday, November 1, 2010
“Oh, no I understand. You’re all busy with work and that’s fine. I’m happy with my job at the moment and I’ll probably look more into jobs with writing if I ever want something new,” I said rubbing my thumb on the side of my Styrofoam cup.
“As long as you’re happy,” Wendy said.
“So what’s everybody been doing since I left?” I asked. “Like Kepler, Sam, Heather and Wanda.”
“Sam and Wanda still work at Baker; Kepler has actually become a professional bum and has been living in his parent’s basement for the last four months or so,” Aaron explained.
“Heather’s the big one,” Wendy began but she was interrupted by a curly-haired blond girl who looked in her early twenties.
She came up to the table very nervously and giggling. “Excuse me, sorry to interrupt,” she said.
“No, that’s perfectly all right,” I said.
“Are you Jeff Franklin?” she asked.
I glanced at Aaron and Wendy’s reaction and smiled. “Yes, I am.”
“You wrote this?” she showed a copy of my book and I looked at it and then back at Aaron and Wendy.
“Yes, I did. I hope you enjoyed it.”
“I’m still reading it but it’s wonderful. Could you do me a favor and sign my copy?” she sat the book down on the table and took a pen from her purse.
“Certainly. What’s your name?” I asked.
I signed the book on the first page: To Meghyn – Thanx, Jeff Franklin and bordered it in a box shaped like Kansas. “There you go, Meghyn and thanks for stopping by.” Meghyn continued giggling and walked away.
“So what about Heather?” I asked toward Aaron and Wendy.
“What the hell was that?” Wendy shouted.
“A fan,” I smiled smugly.
“You wrote a book?” Aaron asked.
“Sure. Hasn’t everybody?” I shrugged.
“Jeff?” Wendy began sternly.
“Alright. Yes, I wrote a book, The Amazing Brayton Arnaz. I started writing it as soon as I arrived in New York. It was released a few months ago to good reviews after a five-city book tour and a five minute interview with Katie Couric on The Today Show,” I revealed.
“Katie Couric?” Aaron asked who a sound of skepticism.
I nodded with my smug smile. “Now what about Heather?”
“You really should see her for yourself but she is really trudging her way back up after hitting rock bottom,” Wendy said.
“What happened?” I asked with a worried look on my face.
“She should really tell you. She lives in the same apartment in Baldwin. She works at the Kwik Shop,” Wendy sighed.
“I’ll go see her sometime this week,” I said and drank the last of my coffee.
“I got to go,” Aaron said. “I have to catch a flight to Chicago early in the morning.”
“Ah, the life of an executive administrator,” I said. “Anyway, thank you guys for coming. It meant a lot to me. I’ve never told anyone this but after Randy died I never really had any friends but I still keep that photo of you two, and Heather and Kepler framed on my desk next to my New York friends. Thank you for being my friends even though I may not have been the best one.”
“You have been a perfect friend, Jeff and nothing can change our opinion of that,” Wendy said. “Except you should’ve told us that you wrote a book.”
“I’ll see you guys later. I’ll call you from Chicago, Jeff,” Aaron said and got up to leave.
“Okay, I’ll see you,” I watched Aaron walk off and looked back at Wendy. “All right, and now for my serious question,” I said ominously.
“I thought Heather was your serious question,” Wendy smiled.
“No. Do you know how Melissa is doing?”
Wendy’s eyes looked away from me and darted around at the various people in the shop. “For about a week, Melissa was all mopey and down but then she started working in a doctor’s office—just doing billing and things like that—and she began dating one of the doctor’s, they fell in love and married. He brings in the money and she spends it so you know that marriage won’t last but she says that’s what she wants,” Wendy revealed.
“If she would’ve stayed with me then she would have the same thing only love would be involved,” I mumbled.
“I honestly think you dodged a bullet with Melissa, Jeff. You are much too good for her,” Wendy said.
“Now for my serious question,” Wendy began. “Have you ever thought about us?”
“Progression. See how it goes from there,” I smiled and took Wendy’s hand. She smiled and looked longingly at me.
Harter Union comes to an end as Jeff reunites with Heather.