The Strong Girl
Here's the first of around 55,000 words...
Apr 06, 2009
Principal Jackson stood at the edge of the school parking lot and watched as two janitors on ladders took down the sign that had been mounted on the top of a large trailer. The sign was red on white and read,
“Red Rose Trucking Employment Office.”
On either end of the sign was an illustration of a red rose. When the janitors were on the ground, they loaded the sign in the back of a pickup truck.
One of the janitors then went back to the trailer to retrieve an American flag that was in a flag holder by the door as the other one approached Principal Jackson and asked him,
“Should we take out the trailer?”
“No, leave it,” Principal Jackson replied.
Sergeants William Wilson and Buford Powel sat down at the table opposite each other.
“Thanks for getting me this gig,” said Powel as Wilson handed him a list of boy’s names with address and notations concerning courses and activities, “I hope to God I never have to see another camel again as long as I live!”
“No problem,” responded Wilson.
“So what do I do?” asked Powel as he gazed upon his list, which was headed “George Washington High School.”
“Just take that list and check off the jocks and anyone taking shop classes. Those will be the boys you’ll want to visit after you do your show and tell,” responded Wilson.
“Doing this sure beats Afghanistan,” stated Sergeant Powel.
“I’ve seen enough of that inferno of a country for two lifetimes,” replied Wilson.
Wilson then began to go through his list which was headed “Abraham Lincoln High School.” The two sergeants read and checked off their lists in silence for a while and then Powel asked,
“So tell me, how does Uncle Sam pick which schools we visit?”
“He picks ‘hem near where there’s been a layoff… a plant closing… that sought of thing.”
“Makes sense,” Powel observed.
The soldiers resumed their silent work for a while longer before Powel asked another question.
“So how did Uncle Sam get these schools to give us all this info anyway?”
“Remember all that no kid left behind crap?”
“Vaguely,” replied Powel before asking, “So what about it?”
“Well, there’s a provision snuck in there that says that in order to get money for their school, they’ve got to give us this info.”
“You don’t say! So how do all them school principals take it when they find out?”
“As long as they get their money, they take it good enough.”
“Makes sense,” observed Powel again.
“Makes our job easier too; you done with your list?”
“Yep, now I’m ready for the list of girls,” replied Powel.
“Unless you’re looking for a date, you can forget the girls. The army’s got enough of them traipsing around Iraq in their starched uniforms, playing soldier.”
“You think we’ll ever fight over there?”
“I don’t know but as far as our quota goes, they’re only counting boys, especially the ones literate enough to become mechanics.”
“And what about the ones who aren’t?” asked Powel.
“You mean the jocks?”
To which Sergeant Powel smiled and replied,
Tommy Morrison, dressed in a very expensive blue suit and tie, followed Assistant Secretary of State Jack Jones as he led him to a corner booth in the back of the officer’s club. Tommy Morrison is around forty-five years old; about twenty pounds overweight and has a well-receded hairline. Jack Jones’ suit was also expensive but not nearly as expensive as Tommy’s was. Seated there were three army officers; Gen. Eleanor Wilson who was an overly made up gray haired woman of at least sixty whom one could tell was once pretty in her day; Col. Robert Nash who was a thin, dignified looking older gentleman with white hair; and Col. Daniel Kelly who was a fat, middle-aged man whose jacket, which was pulling at its buttons, should have been one size larger.
Tommy never could remember how to tell military ranks, save from reading nametags, but he had no trouble whatsoever in telling that Gen. E. Wilson, Col. R. Nash, and Col. D. Kelly were highly ranked indeed. Not with the gold on their arms and shoulders, the medals on their chests and the scrambled eggs on the visors of their hats which were set on the table to the right of each of them.
As Tommy approached the booth, the group looked up at this representative of Hollywood with child like excitement for they had been drinking and were in a good mood.
“Hello boys and girls,” said Jones, “I want you all to meet my director friend who I told you about this morning; Tommy Morrison of Films of Excellence.
“Hello Tommy,” the three officers replied in unison, imitating a kindergarten class.
“Tommy has graciously taken some time out of his busy schedule to meet with us,” continued the assistant secretary.
“Time out from chasing starlets?” asked the fat officer.
“That would be a producer,” shot back Tommy smiling “they can afford them.”
“But the director makes the decisions, right?” asked the overly made up general.
“Some of them anyway,” answered Tommy as a wry smile came to his face.
Jack Jones motioned for a waiter as he said to the group, “you all look like you can use another round.”
“Desperately,” said the elderly officer.
“And what’s your poison?” the Jack Jones asked Tommy.
“Johnny Walker Black on the rocks,” responded Tommy.
“And you know the rest of our sad stories by now,” Jack Jones said to the waiter who then smiled and left.
As the waiter returned to set down the drinks, the group quieted down and Assistant Secretary Jones began.
“Tommy, here’s what’s happening; it’s only a matter of time before we have to invade Iraq and we could use your help with something.”
“Well,” responded Tommy, “I doubt you’ve brought me here to discuss high tech weapons.”
The officers laughed.
“No,” continued Jones, “what we need from you is your help in bringing around public opinion.”
“I can not begin to tell you how important this is for us,” added the general.
“And you want me to do what, a short film?” asked Tommy.
“A full length movie,” responded Jones.
“With a big star,” added the fat man.
Tommy was silent for a moment before replying with,
“Movies and movie stars cost money.”
“The Pentagon is willing to fund this project,” started the general before the elderly officer interrupted with,
“I see,” said Tommy.
“We were hoping that with your expertise in, shall we say, manipulating public sentiment, you could create a movie for us that puts military service in a positive light,” continued the elderly officer.
“Convince the young men,” added the fat man.
Tommy leaned back in his chair and thought for a moment before smiling and stating,
“Then, you’ll need to convince the young women.”
“And how do we do that? And why?” asked the fat man as the rest of the officers looked at Tommy with slightly puzzled looks.
“You do that by making a film with a strong female lead.”
“If you mean another war picture with a pretty little airhead in uniform,” interrupted the fat man.
“Hey!” responded the general good-naturedly.
“Present company excluded of course.”
With that, everyone was laughing again.
“No young lady in a uniform,” assured Tommy, “not even a war movie for that matter.”
The general smiled before asking jokingly, “So just exactly what kind of chick flick you have in mind?”
“The usual buddy movie, something on the order of a strong young lady helping her girlfriend get over a young man,” answered Tommy promptly.
“Hmmm,” responded the surprised general.
“We could make it interesting,” continued Tommy, “have both our young ladies fall in love with the same young man and of course the strong young lady would be the first to realize that the young man’s a cad.”
“So boy meets two girls and gets neither,” said the general as the other officers looked on totally baffled. “But how do we get our message across with that type of movie?”
“You don’t… get your message that is. What you get is your messenger.”
“Go on,” said the general, now a little baffled her self.
“Once you establish a new and likable young star, what our strong young lady does as a private citizen can have a far greater influence on young people than any role she might play.”
“On the young girls who could influence the young men, clever,” stated the general now understanding.
“So you turn some pretty young thing into a movie star and then have her do commercials for the army?” asked Jack Jones who was also beginning to understand.
“Something on that order,” responded Tommy.
“But what if the movie bombs?” asked the army man.
“The male chauvinist pig does have a point,” added the general good-naturedly.
“We have our good days,” added the army man.
“You just leave that to me,” Tommy replied before continuing with, “the other two players I have in mind for this love triangle are more experienced so if need be, they can fill in whatever gaps our new leading lady may have in her acting skills.”
“OK,” began the general, “so the movie is a block-buster, but our newly born star doesn’t support war with Iraq, or war with anyone else for that matter, now what?”
“We could use the Teddy technique at that point,” suggested the army man jokingly.
“You mean hitting her over the head with a big stick?” asked the general.
“More like a big carrot,” responded Tommy.
“A carrot we have the honor of paying for I suppose,” stated the elderly officer.
“Like I said; movies and movie stars…”
“Cost money, yes,” interrupted the elderly officer “but how much?”
“For her first and hopefully breakthrough, movie, about two million; for our new star, one-hundred thousand; the other two are under contract so they’ll be on us.”
“…and for the carrot afterwards?” persisted the elderly officer.
Tommy smiled and responded, “Probably a lot cheaper than one of those black wedge-shaped airplanes you guys love so much.”
The general smiled a knowing smile as Jack Jones asked,
“Any chance these other two more experienced kids would help us out?”
“Not a chance,” responded Tommy smiling, “they’re from wealthy families, drama school graduates...”
“In other words liberals,” interrupted the general.
“And in which drug store are you going to find this talented young lady?” asked the elderly officer.
“Talented and strong,” chimed in the fat army man jokingly.
“I know high-school drama teachers from poorer school districts all across the country,” answered Tommy before adding, “These high-schools are great places to find new talent.”
“Really,” said the general somewhat surprised.
“As a matter of fact, I’m going out to a George Washington High School to see a young lady play Blanche DuBois and then over to an Abraham Lincoln High School to see a young lady play Juliet. I’m told they’re both quite good.”
“Interesting,” commented the general thoughtfully.
“Very,” agreed the elderly officer before asking, “but once our interesting girl becomes a star, won’t she have other studios besides Films of Excellence offering her carrots?”
“Which is why we never pass up underprivileged talent,” responded Tommy, not missing a beat. “You see, what we do is we sign them to ten-year contracts that lay out what they’ll make to do their first movie and the larger amounts that will follow provided their first movie is a success.”
“Meaning our newly born star shines for you only or doesn’t shine at all,” stated the general.
“Something on that order,” responded Tommy.
“Larger amounts that we,” began the elderly officer; but before he could finish, the general said in a tone of finality,
“…that we will pay for.”
The general then turned to Tommy and said,
“Well I hope at least one of these girls works out.”
“Like I said, these high-schools are great places to find young actresses,” stated Tommy.
“Young soldiers too,” replied the general dryly.
Rebecca Johnson sat alone at the snack table in the bowling alley wearing faded blue jeans and a red flannel shirt. Over this was a blue hooded sweatshirt zippered up three-quarter way. The sweatshirt was too big for her and her hands were tucked up into the long sleeves.
With her posture slightly hunched, she looked toward the snack counter at the teenage boy in the clean, light gray work clothes who stood in line. Her extraordinarily beautiful face held a happy expression as she gazed upon the boy; that is until out of the corner of her eye she caught site of a middle-aged, pot-bellied man in a bowling shirt staring at her. Instantly, her pretty, little mouth became turned-down at the edges as the expression on her face turned to one of total disgust. She then turned toward the pot-bellied man and stared back at him causing the man to quickly turn his balding head away and pretend to be watching the other bowlers.
Rebecca then looked back towards the snack counter to see the teenager in gray come towards her table. On his work shirt was a large patch, which read, “Eagle Motors.” Below that, stitched in black thread was “Johnny,” written in script.
“Got the last one,” Johnny told Rebecca as he set a giant brownie and a cup of black coffee and a plastic stirrer in front of her. His tone was not very cheerful; something was on Johnny’s mind.
“Thank you baby,” Rebecca said sweetly as she took the sugar dispenser that was on the table and poured a good amount of sugar in her coffee. As Rebecca stirred her coffee, she looked up at Johnny to find an expression on his face, which concerned her. She was about to ask what was the matter when Johnny asked her,
“I’m better now,” answered Rebecca as she rubbed her hands up and down her arms.
Rebecca then looked at what Johnny had gotten for himself, a huge double cheeseburger with strips of bacon hanging over the sides, a mountain of French-fries and a giant cup of soda.
Johnny pretended not to notice Rebecca’s accessing of his meal as he proceeded to stuff a handful of fries in his mouth.
Rebecca tilted her head to her side, sighed in mock exasperation and asked,
“Johnny, do you ever eat anything else?” as much to cheer up her boyfriend as to express her true feelings about eating meat.
Johnny then took a large bite of his cheeseburger and with his mouth full, answered,
Rebecca shook her head and smiled at him as she took a bite of her brownie.
Johnny ate silently for a while as Rebecca then sipped her coffee and looked at him with concern. Finally, Rebecca asked,
“Baby what’s the matter?”
Johnny was silent for a moment before answering,
“The Red Rose, they’re shutting it down.”
Rebecca thought for a moment before conceding slowly.
“You wanted to work there, Johnny, I know.”
“I guess that ain’t happening now.”
“I’m sure there’s something else you can do.”
“I’d go to one of them trade schools if I had the money,” responded Johnny before taking another large bite of his cheeseburger and adding, “They’d get me a job.”
“Maybe Eagle Motors will let you work full time after June and you can save up for one.”
“I suppose,” Johnny responded before stuffing another handful of fries in his mouth and continuing with, “but I was hoping to save up for something else.”
Rebecca smiled at Johnny as she picked up a napkin with her left hand. As she wiped off some catsup that was on his mouth, she advised him sagely,
“Enjoy your freedom; there’ll be plenty of time for me to make your life miserable.”
“Don’t say that Bec,” Johnny responded sincerely.
Rebecca then cheerfully changed the subject with,
“I almost forgot! Someone is turning eighteen soon!”
“Not that voting thing again,” Johnny, pleaded.
“No, not that” stated Rebecca before adding decisively, “although you should register.”
Rebecca then reached into her purse, and pulled out a small box.
“Happy birthday baby,” Rebecca cooed as she handed Johnny the box.
Johnny opened the box and took out an army version of a Zippo lighter.
“Thank you baby!”
Rebecca then playfully rubbed Johnny’s leg with her foot, smiled suggestively and said,
“If you’re not too tired after work tonight, you might want to stop by for the rest of your present.”
Johnny smiled back and said,
“I’ll see what I can do.”
As Johnny and Rebecca walked out of the bowling alley, Johnny whispered into Rebecca’s ear,
“You know Bec, if you’re trying to turn me off to the idea of marrying you; you’re doing a crappy job. To which Rebecca responded by playfully changing the subject with,
“Give me a cigarette; I want to see if that thing works.”
Johnny sighed and took out a cigarette for Rebecca and him. The lighter worked just fine.
Rebecca reached over and put her arm out in an effort to quiet the alarm clock on her end table. In doing so, she knocked to the floor a Hollywood tabloid magazine. Fortunately, she managed not to hit the small empty flask bottle of cheap vodka that was also on her nightstand. She then lay alone in her bed, staring at the ceiling for a while before finally mustering enough strength to sit upright. After a great big yawn, Rebecca rubbed the sides of her head and then slowly got out of bed.
As she got to her feet, she caught a chill and went immediately to her window, which was wide open and had a dirty boot print on the sill. Rolling her eyes, she asked rhetorically,
“Will that boy ever remember?”
Rebecca then went to the bathroom and brought back a roll of paper towel and a bottle of Windex, which she then used to clean up the dirty windowsill before finally closing the window.
After washing up and getting dressed, Rebecca looked toward her night stand and then said,
“Oh,” as she spotted her magazine on the floor.
After retrieving her magazine, she went into the kitchen to find her mother seated at the table in her bathrobe, drinking black coffee and smoking a cigarette. Rebecca did not look like her mother.
The walls of this circa 1960 kitchen sorely needed a paint job, as did the faded wooden cabinets. The square table in the middle of the floor had a block of wood under one of its legs and the seats of the squeaky, mismatched chairs were well worn.
On the table next to a halfway filled Elvis Presley ashtray was a page from a newspaper, folded so that one could not tell what it was. Next to that was a box of chocolate donuts and a sugar bowl with a spoon in it.
“Good morning mama,” Rebecca said to her mother.
“Good morning sweetheart,” her mother replied as she slid a pack of cigarettes across the table, causing her chair to emit a squeak, which was totally ignored. Rebecca then folded her magazine to expose a section showing several full-length photographs of some famous actresses, put the magazine on the table and said to her mother,
“Mama, what do you think of these?”
As her mother looked over the magazine, Rebecca picked up the pack of cigarettes, took out a cigarette, and lit it. She then gazed upon her mother’s face and to her dismay; she found it to be slightly red and swollen on the right side. As Rebecca was about to say something about it, her mother, without lifting her head from the magazine laughed slightly and stated,
“I’ve had worse girl,”
“Mama, you really should…” Rebecca began before her mother cut her off emphatically with,
“This dress is way too low! It exposes too much and what little there is of it has a confusing pattern!”
Rebecca stood behind her mother to see which actress she was pointing at.”
“Now this one,” her mother continued as she pointed to another actress, “is elegant!”
Rebecca studied the picture for a moment before stating with certainty,
“That’s Jill Pratt at the annual gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.”
Rebecca knew this already for the only thing listed under these pictures was the name of the actress.
“That’s the place you’re always mentioning, isn’t it.”
“I would love to see all that art.”
“I’m sure it’s quite a place,” stated Rebecca’s mother as she picked up the folded newspaper page that was on the table and then said,
“I found this on the bus; it’s a crossword puzzle from the Sunday New York Times,” she told Rebecca as she unfolded the newspaper page and handed it to her.
“Way out here?” Rebecca asked as she took the puzzle and proceeded to look for a pen in the kitchen junk draw. When she found a pen, she closed the draw and took a long drag from her cigarette.
Rebecca then leaned against the counter and while standing, with her cigarette dangling from her mouth, wrote in the entire puzzle almost as fast as if she had been copying the words from another source. As she did this, her mother looked on and smiled.
When Rebecca was finished, she took another long drag from her cigarette and turned towards the stove to pour herself a cup of coffee. After putting the aluminum percolator pot back onto the stove jet, she sat down at the table and ignoring the squeak from her chair, and took a donut.
“I wish I could get Johnny to try these things, it would improve his vocabulary,”
Rebecca stated before taking her first bite.
Rebecca’s mother took a long drag from her cigarette before smiling knowingly and asking,
“Like acting out plays?”
“Mama, I just wish Johnny was a little more open to knowledge,” replied Rebecca defensively, with her mouth full, as she put in three spoonfuls of sugar in her coffee.
“Girl, take it from me, trying to make over men is a bad business.”
“Well he’ll never get into college if he doesn’t improve his reading skills,” stated Rebecca stubbornly as she stirred her coffee an then put the spoon back into the sugar bowl,
“But does he want to go to college?”
Rebecca was silent for a moment as she took a second donut and conceded to her mother,
“No, not really; all he wants to do is fix cars.”
“Rebecca, you can’t fault the boy for that, you either except him for who he is or not.”
“But I want him to be something better.”
“For who’s sake; his or yours?”
Rebecca responded by making an annoyed face and finishing off her donut. Rebecca then took a look drag from her cigarette before announcing to her mother,
“I could use some aspirin, my head hurts.”
Rebecca’s mother took a tin out of her robe and said,
“There’s a couple left in here; I’ll get some more when I go food shopping.”
“And when will that be?” Rebecca asked as her mother handed her the tin.
“When your dad gives me some money,” her mother replied.
Rebecca smiled ruefully as she took the remaining two aspirin from the tin and tossed the tin across the room and into the garbage can. After taking the aspirin with her coffee, Rebecca then looked up at the wall clock and said,
“I’d better get going,”
As she got up from the table, she took her cup over to the sink, where she washed and dried it.
“Have a good day sweetheart.”
“You too mama,” Rebecca replied as she put the cup away.
As Rebecca left through the kitchen door with her nearly spent cigarette in her mouth, her mother put out her spent cigarette and lit up a new one.
Rebecca squeezed Johnny’s hand reassuringly as she led him down the school corridor toward the auditorium.
“It’s a good thing you’re cute,” Johnny began to say to Rebecca before she cut him off with,
“Because I’m such a pain in your ass Johnny, I know.”
As Rebecca entered the auditorium with Johnny in tow one of the girls in the cast asked her, “Rebecca, who’s the chubby old bald guy in the suit talking to Mr. Gibson?
Rebecca and Johnny both turned and looked toward the front of the stage where they saw Tommy Morrison standing next to their drama teacher Mr. Gibson. Tommy was wearing a very expensive gray suit and tie.
“Don’t know,” Rebecca replied before adding, “But he’s certainly well dressed.” “Yeah, nice suit,” agreed Johnny.
Rebecca led Johnny up on to the stage of the auditorium as Mr. Gibson shouted,
“OK everybody, let’s do the balcony scene.”
Rebecca walked up the wooden steps and positioned herself on the balcony.
Johnny nervously stood below her.
“Quiet everyone!” shouted Mr. Gibson.
“Whenever you’re ready Rebecca,” he then said to Rebecca in a normal tone.
“This is Rebecca Johnson, the girl I told you about,” he then said to Tommy Morrison in a barely audible whisper.
Rebecca closed her eyes and took a deep breath; now she was ready.
Tommy Morrison, a man for whom seeing beautiful women in person was the norm and not the exception as it is for most men, stared with awe at this extremely beautiful teenager for a moment before stating softly,
“She is certainly beautiful.”
Before Mr. Gibson could concur, Rebecca began.
And so it went, Rebecca reciting her lines, beautifully, melodiously, and flawlessly and Johnny responding, hesitantly, awkwardly, and clumsily. As usual, it was clear to everyone within earshot that Rebecca was a gifted actress. When the scene was over the drama teacher asked Tommy,
“Was I right about this girl?”
“I’ll say! This young lady is brilliant!” responded Tommy Morrison sincerely before adding, “nothing short of perfect.”
“The boy however,” continued the drama teacher, “he’s Rebecca’s boyfriend so of course, she just had to have him in the play, opposite her.”
Tommy smiled understandingly before suggesting,
“Well he’s handsome enough, why not use him as scenery; make him a bystander or something.”
“Minus well,” responded Mr. Gibson.
When the scene was over the drama teacher called loudly to Johnny,
“Johnny, come here a minute, I need to talk to you,” and then to the rest of the students he said loudly,
“The rest of you take five minutes.”
Rebecca watched with intense curiosity as the drama teacher broke the news of the demotion to Johnny. She was too far away to hear the whispered tones and Johnny’s face showed no emotion. When they were done talking, Johnny walked toward the exit door of the auditorium. When he got to the door, he turned around and caught sight of Rebecca.
Rebecca walked over to Mr. Gibson but before she could say anything, Mr. Gibson raised his hands in surrender and told her,
“Rebecca, I’m sorry, but he just isn’t up to being Romeo. I told him he could have a non-speaking part if he wants one…let me know what he decides, will you?”
“Sure Mr. Gibson,” answered Rebecca in a disappointed tone as she totally ignored the man in the nice suit who was gazing intently upon her beautiful face.
From where Johnny stood, he could see Tommy Morrison stare at Rebecca and it seemed to him as if Rebecca had spoken to both men. Johnny, now annoyed, left the auditorium.
“OK, let’s do the balcony scene again, Rebecca if you would; Quiet everyone!”
The balcony scene was started again with Rebecca and a new boy who read better than Johnny but not by much. Tommy Morrison watched once more as Rebecca’s flawless performance was once again intertwined with the awkward reciting of a teenage boy. The drama teacher asked him once again,
“Was I right about this girl?”
Tommy Morrison smiled and said,
“It must be hard on the boy’s, I mean; I wouldn’t want to be up there with her.”
Suddenly, Tommy’s cell phone rang and Tommy retrieved it from his pocket. Upon seeing who it was, an annoyed expression came over his face.
“Excuse me,” Tommy said, “this girl’s a pest.”
Mr. Gibson smiled as Tommy proceeded to answer his call.
“Yes Jane, sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner but I wanted to be sure,” Tommy said in a sincere tone.
After listening to Jane’s reply Tommy continued with,
“There seems to be some financial problems with the backing of Strong Girl so I’m afraid it’s being shelved for a while… no, I don’t have anything else for you right now…I’ll let you know as soon as I do…bye Jane.”
As Tommy put his cell phone back into his pocket, he said to Mr. Gibson,
“Delivering bad news to pretty young ladies is one of my many occupational hazards I’m afraid.”
“I guess that happens a lot.”
“Well thank you for having here me today, I owe you.”
“No problem,” Mr. Gibson stated as he handed Tommy a slip of paper, which Tommy looked at briefly and then put into his pocket.
When rehearsal was over, Rebecca left the auditorium looking for Johnny. Then she caught sight of Johnny’s sister Jenny and asked her,
“Jenny, have you seen your brother?”
“No, I haven’t”
Rebecca then looked at her watch and said,
“I’d better be going.”
Jenny then asked,
“You want to stop by for dinner tomorrow before the meeting?”
“We’re having pizza.”
Rebecca smiled and responded,
“Great, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Timothy Pratt concentrated mightily as he stared down upon his textbook, scanning all of the large, colorful letters on the page until putting his little finger on the letter “S” and exclaiming,
The little boy then waited for the praise that usually followed a correct answer and when he did not receive it, he looked up in disappointment to find Rebecca looking down at him and smiling.
“Becca, what-cha dinkin?”
“Very good Timmy! I guess we’re done for today,” replied Rebecca, not answering the little boy’s question.
“OK Becca, see you tomorra?”
Rebecca gave the little boy a peck on his forehead and then got off the floor.
“Don’t forget to give your baby sister a great big hug for me.”
As she entered the kitchen, Mrs. Pratt, who was seated at the kitchen table polishing her nails, looked up and asked Rebecca,
“Would you like to join us for dinner? We’re trying out the new Italian place. I hear it’s really good.”
“I’d love to but I can’t, I’ve got to get to the library and write my paper.”
Suddenly, the sound of a crying baby emanated from another room, causing Mrs. Pratt to mess up one of her nails.
“Damn!” exclaimed Mrs. Pratt as she put down her brush.
“I’ll see you tomorrow then,” she continued as she got up from the table and reached into the refrigerator for a baby bottle.
“See you tomorrow,” responded Rebecca as she exited the house through the front door, crossing paths with Mrs. Pratt’s mother.
Johnny walked down Main Street past the offices of Family Medical and stopped in front of the Diamond-In-The-Sky jewelry store to look into the window. With his blue hooded sweatshirt in hand, Johnny stood for a while, staring at an engagement ring with a one thousand dollar price tag. The expression on his face was that of dejection for the stone in this ring could just as well have been the Hope diamond as far as its affordability to Johnny was concerned. Finally, Johnny left the jewelry store and proceeded to his job at Eagle Motors.
Johnny stepped out from under the car in the Eagle Motors garage, having just finished a break job. He then walked over to the controls of the lift, gave a quick look around, and then lowered the car to the floor.
“That’s all I got for you today,” said a heavyset man, whose large forearms were covered with tattoos. The heavyset man then looked up at a wall clock, which read four thirty-one.
“We’ll call it five o’clock,” he stated.
Pauly replied by waving his hand. Johnny then asked hopefully,
“You think you’ll have anything for me tomorrow?”
The expression on Pauly’s face was doubtful.
“You’ll be the first to know, you’re my best break man.”
As Johnny left the garage, the sky was starting to darken and the wind was picking up. Johnny put on his blue sweatshirt and walked down the street.
Johnny walked through the library toward the back where he found Rebecca writing feverishly in a pink notebook. She was wearing a red hooded sweatshirt.
Out of the corner of her eye, Rebecca saw Johnny coming over to her and was surprised.
“Sorry about the play Bec,” Johnny whispered into her ear.
“Forget it baby,” Rebecca said before adding, “I didn’t expect to see you tonight.”
“They didn’t have much work today.”
“So where did you run off to after rehearsal?”
“Just out walking”
Suddenly there was a crack of thunder and the sky opened up, causing Rebecca to state,
“I’m glad you came.”
Rebecca rested her head against Johnny’s shoulder as he drove his pickup truck though the rain. Already tired from her work in the library, the rhythm of the rain and the windshield wipers made Rebecca sleepy. Occasional, Johnny’s truck would hit a ruff patch in the road and the two teenagers would bump up and down in unison.
“So how’s the tutoring business going?” asked Johnny.
Rebecca smiled and with her eyes closed, answered,
“If I ever have a little boy, I want him to be just like Timmy, my God he’s so precious.”
“Well if he took after you he’d be one handsome devil,” Johnny responded before adding, “and smart like hell to boot.”
“Well you’re not exactly a looser yourself.”
Johnny smiled and then asked,
“So what are you writing about?”
With her eyes still closed, Rebecca answered,
“The evolution of the feminine ideal in American literature.”
“Fascinating,” stated Johnny jokingly.
Rebecca responded to this by opening her eyes, lifting her head, playfully punching Johnny’s arm, and returning her head to where it had been. She then closed her eyes once more.
As Johnny pulled up to Rebecca’s house Rebecca lifted her head off Johnny’s shoulder and looked at her driveway. Seeing that it was empty, she turned toward Johnny and suggested,
“Come up for a while.”
Johnny sat on Rebecca’s bed and waited for her to close the door. He then pulled Rebecca onto his lap and unzipped Rebecca’s sweatshirt. Rebecca responded by tilting her head to the side and stating sweetly,
“Sorry baby. Not tonight,” emphasizing the word “sorry.”
“Oh well,” responded Johnny good naturedly as he dropped his hand.
He then thought for a moment and then asked Rebecca,
“I forget; is tomorrow your girls club night?”
“Yes and you do forget,” admonished Rebecca playfully before stating, “It’s the women’s feminist club,” emphasizing the word women as she wagged her finger in mock indignation, making sure to hit the tip of Johnny’s nose over and over again.
Johnny laughed as he turned his head away to escape Rebecca’s finger.
“Isn’t woman and feminist redundant,” Johnny asked.
“I wish,” Rebecca stated as she got up, went to her desk, and picked up a textbook titled “War in the Trenches, 1914 to 1918.”
Upon seeing the book, Johnny became annoyed and asked,
“Is this my punishment for bombing in your play?”
“No, it’s your punishment for failing your last history exam!” replied Rebecca good-naturedly.
Johnny then lay on his back with his arms stretched out on Rebecca’s bed as he let out a sigh of exasperation.
As the telephone rang in the kitchen, Rebecca stated with certainty,
“Well you’re going to pass your next one!”
A second ring of the telephone was cut short as Rebecca sat down beside Johnny, opened the textbook on her lap, and waited.
Johnny remained as he was for a moment longer before Rebecca lost patience with him and commanded, still good-naturedly,
“Up! Up! Up!”
Johnny then asked Rebecca,
“Is it that God awful important? I mean, they’re going to graduate me anyway.”
“Suppose you want to go to college some day?”
Johnny thought for a moment before asking Rebecca,
“Does it bother you?”
Rebecca was now becoming annoyed; she had had this conversation with Johnny many times before.
“Does what bother me Johnny,” she asked with waning patience.
“That I’m not some kind of scholar.”
Rebecca responded by saying, somewhat sternly,
“Johnny, get up.”
Johnny reluctantly got up.
“We’ll start with Sarajevo,” said Rebecca.
“Whatever you say, Bec”
Suddenly, Rebecca’s mother flung open the door to Rebecca’s room. Rebecca was about to let out with a “mama!” in protest of the invasion of her privacy but then she stopped herself. The expression on her mother’s face told Rebecca that something was very wrong.
“Rebecca, it’s your father, he’s been in an accident.”
Johnny pulled up to the front of the hospital to let out Rebecca and her mother.
The rain was pounding on the canopy.
“As soon as I park this thing I’ll meet you guys in the emergency room.”
“I don’t even know where he is,” stated Rebecca’s mother.
“Don’t worry, I’ll find you,” replied Johnny, trying his best to be reassuring.
“Come mama,” Rebecca told her mother calmly as she helped her out of the truck.
Rebecca then slammed the truck door shut and Johnny drove off to find a parking space.
Rebecca and her mother entered the hospital and passed an empty couch in the lounge en-route to the emergency room. As Rebecca and her mother entered the emergency room, they looked around for Mr. Johnson.
“There mama!” Rebecca exclaimed as she pointing to the far corner of the room where her father lay on a bed, un-conscience and hooked up to a host of machines. Although his face was bloated by years of heavy drinking, one could still see where Rebecca had gotten her exceptionally beautiful face.
Standing near to her father’s bed was a young deputy of no more than twenty years of age who was talking loudly to an older doctor who had positioned himself between the deputy and the bed. Rebecca could not make out what he was saying but she did notice that front and arms of his shirt was covered in dried blood. Standing along side of the deputy was the chief of police, an older man who everyone knew, with his hand on the young man’s shoulder.
As Rebecca and her mother approached the trio, Rebecca looked at their faces. The older men were profoundly sad but resigned; they were in control. The expression on the face of the younger man however took Rebecca aback. She had never seen anyone so upset in her life. As Rebecca and her mother reached Mr. Johnson’s bed, the young deputy stated to the doctor,
“I found that kid in pieces; I’m cuffing his ass to that bed!”
To which the doctor responded by patiently explaining to the young man,
“There’s no point now.”
The chief then said to his deputy, in a soft, paternal tone,
“Go to the car son.”
The deputy hung his head and took a deep-breath.
The chief then patted him on the back and said,
With great effort, the deputy managed to fight back a sudden urge to cry. Then he said, in a tone of dejection.
As the deputy left, the chief shook his head and then to the doctor he conceded,
“The little ones hurt.”
As Rebecca’s mother looked down upon her husband in profound sadness, Rebecca looked to the doctor, who responded by shaking his head no.
As the doctor left, the chief said to Rebecca and her mother,
“Mrs. Johnson, Rebecca, there’s something I need to tell you.”
Mrs. Johnson then sat on a stool along side the bed, put her head on her husband’s shoulder, and started crying uncontrollably.
Rebecca, took a step away from the bed, motioned to the chief and asked,
“What is it?”
The chief paused for a moment; his tired mind groping for words.
“Your old man was drunk again; stank of it.”
Rebecca shook her head in disgust but the chief was not yet finished.
“He ran a red light doing around a hundred; plowed himself into a family and killed a little boy.”
“Oh my God,” Rebecca responded softly as she got weak in the knees and steadied herself by grabbing the chief’s arm.
“Rebecca, I’m so sorry,” stated the police chief sincerely.
Rebecca composed herself and replied.
“So am I.”
Suddenly Johnny appeared; dripping wet, and asked Rebecca,
“How is he?”
“Not good Johnny,” Rebecca replied without emotion.
Suddenly, one of the machines that Mr. Johnson was hooked-up to, made a beeping sound. Mrs. Johnson was then hustled off her stool and away from her husband by a resident as other residents closed the curtain around his bed. Johnny, Rebecca and her mother waited as the residents did their work behind the curtain. Then they stopped and as they left the dead man, one of them said to the trio,
“We did what we could.”
As Rebecca, Johnny, and Mrs. Johnson made their way back through the lounge, they saw the police chief standing in front of the couch with his back toward them. On the couch, sat Mrs. Pratt, rocking back in forth in the arms of her distraught husband, asking “why?” over and over again.