Found and Broken
At lunch all eyes were on me as I walked to our table. I looked back one-eyed
at a few of the faces,
but the stares made me uneasy. I could feel them on me
the way you feel gnats
around you on a summer day. People laughed and
whispered; I even heard
a few claps. But I was just the under-card, John the
Baptist in the desert
before the real deal, batting practice before the game.
It happened just as I sat down at the table. First, it was a few seniors next
to our table. Then it
was their whole table. You could hear the sound of chairs
scooting on the concrete
floor, one by one. The masses rose throughout the
cafeteria like a wave at
a baseball game. Only the wave held firm as it reached the
far end of our lunchtime
confines. The clapping followed and continued for a good
five minutes. There were
no speeches or half-time buzzer beaters, but still the
masses were on their
feet giving the man of the hour a standing ovation, the same
man they rooted against
not hours ago.
I hopped on top of my chair so I could see above the crowd and joined the
clapping. In front of
the southeast double doors, in front of the stairwell, stood the
janitor. He was walking
with tray in hand and backpack over his shoulder. He
slowed his pace at the
cheering and looked to see what the applause was for. His
eyes scanned the far end
of the room and then moved toward our table. By the
time he’d surveyed the
cafeteria, it was evident that every smile was for him.
stopped in his tracks, balancing the two cartons of milk on the edge of his
tray. His cheeks
blushed, but the clapping continued to get louder until it was
deafening. The prison
guards scurried through the crowd searching for a fight and
were at a loss when they
found nothing. They could only look and wonder. I did,
however, see off in the
corner Mr. Buttworst clap a few soft claps to himself. In all
my years of prison life
I’d never seen such a thing.
began his slow walk to our table with his head down in
masses pounded on their tables and shook anything that
would make noise. Roman
looked for a seat but our table was packed. Sam and
Pick scooted an empty
table up to ours and connected the two. Heather and a few
cheerleaders pulled up
the chairs. Roman looked around again wanting the ovation
to stop. He put his tray
on the table but the noise grew louder. He raised his hand
as if to say enough but
the applause continued. Not until Roman sat did the crowd
sit. And not until he
spooned up his applesauce did the hands stop. I patted him
on the back. Heather
kissed his cheek from the other side.
I looked over at my old table and now realized why we were so packed.
There wasn’t a soul at
Johnny’s table. They were all over here. Part of the
winning team I guess.
For the first time in four years the Killer had a legitimate
reason for not being at
school. It wasn’t because he came down with the flu after
another nick in the
popularity armor. Johnny for the first time was physically
unable to get out of
bed. He and Jack could have been roommates at the hospital
for all I knew. One
thing was for sure, whatever mind control Johnny used to have
over these people was
Roman ate fast, leaving little time for conversation with anybody, wishing
the moment would just go
away. The rest of our group had permanent smiles
glued to their faces.
The volume was lower now, almost like a constant hum. The
ovation sucked the
teenage energy right out of the crowd. For once lunch was
Brunno walked up to our tables as fidgety as a crack whore with
Tourette’s. Before he
made it to Roman, Sam Peterman grabbed his arm. He
pulled out a box of
adult diapers and sat it on Brunno’s tray. Brunno squinted
reading the labeling on
the box over and over. Finally the words registered, and he
threw the box on the
floor. He stopped behind Roman, rocking side to side like he
was barefooted on hot
asphalt. He said nothing.
continued to eat until he felt the presence behind him. He turned
around with raised
eyebrow. Brunno looked down at his tray avoiding eye contact
with Roman. The
cafeteria went silent.
I help you Brunno?” Roman asked.
Brunno’s feet tapped faster and his head went back and forth. In a very soft
un-Brunno like voice he
said, “I was won-won-wondering if I could sit with you
stood up from his chair. The cafeteria took a collective inhale.
stared at him until Brunno met his eyes. “You don’t have to ask me where
you can sit. This isn’t
Roman.” Brunno started to walk to the less-populated end
where Heather had pulled
up the chairs.
Roman put his hand on Brunno’s shoulder and opened his other out toward
the seat where he’d just
been sitting. Brunno sat and Roman retrieved one of the
empty seats. Smiles
lasted the rest of the day.
By the last bell, I could barely keep my good eye open. I looked at the
clock, realizing I’d
been awake for thirty-two hours straight. The adrenaline rush
from the Hollow had kept
me going through the day, Roman’s tale had fueled me
through the night, but
now the tank was empty. On the way to the Pinto I swore I
was sleepwalking on
several occasions. It felt like it was the last few miles hiking
up to Pike’s Peak. I
turned the corner of the prison to find that my car was not
Sally was leaning on the hood with her books up against her chest. The
naughty smile had
resurfaced. Before I could say a word she dropped her books,
wrapped her arms around
me, and put her tongue in my mouth.
She pulled away when my kissing wasn’t as enthusiastic as hers. “What’s
wrong? Are you pissed I
wasn’t there for you after the fight? I got swept away in
the crowd and you know I
couldn’t go over to Roman’s on account of my parents.”
know. I’m not pissed. It just hurts to open my mouth. I think Johnny
broke my fucking jaw.
The only thing I could eat at lunch was that goddamn
lemon jello they always
bet I could make it feel better. Plus my mouth is fine,” Sally said as she
put my finger her mouth.
“My parents aren’t home.”
I took my finger back.
“Oh no, I’m not fallin’ for that shit again. Let’s go
to my place.”
bedroom it was the usual routine. Clothes flew and in seconds we
were under my covers.
This was it. I was sure of it. She’d never been like this, so
aggressive. Just before
the eagle had landed...“Oh no.”
looked out my window next to my bed, making sure Pops wasn’t home.
No car. “What now? You
can’t do it with an injured guy or what. Here look.” I
pulled open the dresser
next to my bed and produced a patch. I’d been a pirate for
Halloween back in the
day and for some reason kept the eye cover. I put it on.
now you’re doing it with a pirate, not a hospital patient.”
Sally got out of bed and
gathered up her clothes. “My period is starting.”
Before I could speak she
was in the bathroom
still clinging to the idea I might get something out of this deal. The
comment about her mouth
working fine kept finding its way back into my mind. I
knew the moment she
re-entered I could forget about it. I gave it one last pathetic
try. “We can still mess
around can’t we?”
want to go home. I need to get home. You don’t understand. I just feel
my clothes on and drove her home with my best happy face. The sad
part was I really wasn’t
mad. I was slowly getting conditioned to the fact that this
is how things went for
me. There were no rude comments toward her, and I talked
the entire way. I felt
like my Pops driving with my mom.
the bed when I got home. Don’t remember one thought after my head
hit the pillow. I slept
that night from four o’clock until time to go to school the
won the no-sleep category. He had been up for forty hours
straight. He didn’t have
the zombie tendencies that I did. Roman didn’t require a
lot of sleep anyway, or
was it that he couldn’t sleep? Anyway Roman had already
finished his assigned
cleaning duties and was now looking for extra things to do.
decided to polish all of the brass keyholes on the classroom doors with a new
agent the district had recently purchased. He was instantly
reminded of all the late
night miracle liquid commercials that graced the small
screen. The ones that
could bring back an eighty-year-old sink that had been
sitting in a junk yard
for the last decade and make it look as if it were right out of
the store. To his
surprise the stuff worked. You had to scrub a little harder than
the guys on TV, but at
least it worked.
Halfway through the keyholes Roman heard footsteps coming up the stairs.
He stopped the polishing
expecting to see one of the other janitors. Heather stood
at the end of the hall
holding a basket. Roman put his supplies in his cart and made
his way down to her.
everything all right?” he asked.
“Fine. I knew you had a break at ten and thought maybe I could treat you
to a snack.”
said nothing, continuing to smile like a little boy on his first bike
ride without the
training wheels. Heather produced a blanket from her picnic
basket and spread it on
the floor. It had red and white checkers.
“We can go
in one of the rooms if you want.” Roman said.
“This is a
picnic, silly. You have to sit on the ground.”
how rude of me.” Roman sat down Indian style on the quilt as
Heather began to pull
out the basket’s contents. She set the objects in front of
Roman and then sat down
herself. “What do we have here?”
butter and jelly, grapes, lemonade in a can, and a Ho-Ho.”
“Outstanding,” Roman said.
Heather laughed. “Not quite the French cuisine you prepared at your
took a bite of the sandwich, chewed, and struggled to get the peanut
butter off the roof of
his mouth with his tongue. When he finally swallowed it, he
popped the lemonade and
drank it down. “There’s a time for all foods. You can’t
eat French food on a
picnic. This is perfect.”
ate the remainder of the food, looking into one another’s eyes the
entire time. Heather lay
down on the blanket and stared up at the ceiling. Roman
lay next to her,
propping himself up with his elbow on the floor so he could still
see her face. Roman
fought a yawn, but eventually it won.
haven’t slept yet have you? That’s amazing. Maybe I can at least
give you a little a
peace. Close your eyes.”
Roman shut his eyes.
“If you try
hard enough you can feel the sun on your face. The breeze
through your hair. The
trees rustling in the distance,” Heather said.
“I hear a
creek in the background and birds chirping. A bee buzzed by my
ear but didn’t stop. I’m
bare footed and the grass is coming up between my toes
because my feet are
hanging off the blanket. I can smell lilacs in the wind,”
Heather smiled. “It’s almost winter outside but in here it’s spring. I can
still taste the grapes
in my mouth, and they make my cheeks hurt a little bit from
the sweetness. I’m lying
next to the gentlest person in the entire world. I’ve got a
warm tingle in my belly
because I know he’s going to kiss me and I can’t wait.”
moved his lips to hers. She put her arms around his neck making
sure he wouldn’t pull
away. They went on for several minutes in that imagined
spring meadow, with the
sun overhead, the only two people on earth. Until a
person standing over
them cleared her throat.
Roman looked up to the thick lenses and yellow eyes of Boss Chatterling.
His first thought was of
anger, not at her, but at himself for not hearing her
footsteps and for
letting his guard down. His second thought was he was going to
be fired, right there,
lying down on the job. Boss Chatterling looked at the hallway
and then down at Roman.
“Swivel, I don’t have to remind you that you’re on the clock and that every
bit of your work better
be done before you go on any picnics.”
Chatterling looked at the keyhole on the door closest to her and then the
next and then the next.
The brass gleamed like it had on her first day on the job all
those decades ago.
looked down at Roman again with her sullen no-nonsense face. A
smile tried to break
through but she cut it short. “As you were, janitor.”
Roman heard her
footsteps turn the corner and retreat down the stairs.
Heather pulled him to
Heather pressed her lips to his and spoke. “She was a janitor when my
mother went to school
here. Why does she work the night shift?”
Roman’s breaths were
heavy in-between kissing and talking. “Nobody
knows. It’s like she
never sleeps. I think she works every shift. She’s like God.”
The answer must have
been adequate. Heather slid on top of him.
Roman’s back ached, pushed against the marble of the hallway; the thin checkered
blanket was no cushion
at all. It was a different kind of ache, though, and Roman
could never remember
feeling so good. His hands made their way under her loose
fingertips scaled against her smooth back. His lips touched her neck
as well as her lips.
Their breathing got louder, but before the picnic escalated any
further Heather pulled
away from his mouth.
straddled him in her tight blue jeans, looking directly into his
eyes. She wore her hair
pulled back but a few wild strands had fought their way
free and covered her
left eye. She puckered her lips, attempting to blow the pests
back to the top of her
head. Finally, she balanced herself and brushed them away
with her hand. Heather
giggled, kissed him, and they continued until Roman’s
shift was over.
Johnny the Killer hobbled to his table with the arthritic walk of an eightyyear-
old man. His eyes were
like a raccoon’s, and he carried his tray with one arm
on account of his other
arm being in a sling. He was back just two days after the
Hollow. He was obviously
physically able to come to school. What surprised me
is that he was mentally
able. Johnny the Killer was not mentally tough—for him to
face the crowd after an
embarrassment like that was astonishing.
this was not Johnny the Killer. There were no jubilant smart-ass
remarks flying across
the cafeteria. There were no head raises to greet his legions
of fans. He didn’t point
fingers at people or threaten them. He walked with his
head down. Worst of all
for Johnny the Killer, no one was looking back at him.
The little freshman
cheerleaders weren’t creaming themselves and the underclass
boys weren’t moving
heaven and earth to clear an aisle for him. I think I was the
only one that even
noticed him that day.
Johnny’s luck wasn’t running low enough, when he got to his usual
table—the table most of
us used to sit at—he was cut down even more. The
science club with their
two-inch thick glasses and their pocket protectors sat in
glory at the most
coveted table in the lunchroom. Instead of yelling or using one of
the geeks to clear the
table, Johnny simply kept his head down, looking at the
floor, and walked to the
other side of the cafeteria. Jack made his way one crunch
at a time behind Johnny,
finally sitting at the smallest table in the cafeteria with his
master. They sat there,
not saying a word, scanning the cafeteria every so often,
trying to remember if
they had ever sat there before. They were like transfer
students from another
country on their first day school in the States.
had not only beaten him physically that night in the Hollow.
also took his respect, his popularity, and worst of all, Roman took Johnny’s
desire to get any of
them back. For four years in middle school and four more at
the prison, Johnny was
on top of the food chain, the alpha male. Now he was just
one of the inmates. A
little bit of me was sad to see it—a man broken down like
that. I reminded myself
that Johnny probably deserved far worse.
and Johnny both received call slips almost simultaneously.
Principal Hartman liked to call you at lunch so it would give him one more thing
bust you for if you
happened to be skipping. Roman didn’t know what it was for,
but I did. The gladiator
story had made its way to the warden’s ears and Roman
and Johnny were now in
very deep shit.
sat in front of Hartman in the two chairs that were always in front of
the principal’s enormous
oak desk. His office was bigger than any classroom in
furnished with paintings and a gold-plated ceiling fan. The
window at the far end
was stained glass, but you could still see down to two of the
three student parking
lots. The air was regulated and kept at exactly seventy-two
degrees year-round. The
floor was carpeted with something you’d find in an
Hartman sat with his hands folded businesslike on the desk and his head
tilted back, looking
through the small-rimmed glasses balancing neatly on the end
of his nose—an
intimidating posture in the mind of a man who was very selfconscious
and badly lacking in
respect. There wasn’t a word spoken for five
interrogation factor the warden implemented, designed to make
you squirm a bit before
he put down the hammer.
would be no squirming today though. Roman, who had been through
more bullshit than most
people go through in a lifetime, sat upright in the chair
looking calmly into the
eyes of the man who was about to pass sentence on him.
Johnny who had been to
the principal’s office more times than one cared to count,
slouched in his chair
with his feet up on the wastebasket as if he were at home
watching TV, smacking
his chewing gum at high volume.
Hartman pushed the glasses up to their rightful place with his index finger
and opened a file on his
desk. “So who wants to start?”
well acquainted with Mr. Killman. We have had several meetings in
his tenure here at
Collingston. I do not, however, know much about you Mr.
Swivel, and that’s why I
had my secretary pull your file. Most impressive. A
perfect four on our
scale. It says your past school’s transcripts weren’t available.
Very odd. Why wouldn’t
your school have your transcripts available, Mr.
last school didn’t keep track of grades, Mr. Hartman. Is that the
reason I was called up
Johnny stopped smacking his gum long enough to let out a chuckle.
Hartman’s face reddened
as he leaned forward in his chair and turned his attention
know the rules about gum in my office Johnny. Pitch it.”
Johnny smiled and blew a bubble.
Hartman took out his pen and two form papers and began writing. “The
penalty for physical
violence against anyone at this school is indefinite expulsion.
I as principal can
lessen the penalty, but since the two of you fail to cooperate or
show any remorse, I’m
afraid I’m going to go with what the school guidelines
recommend. That means no
graduation for either of you. That means no baseball
for you Mr. Killman and
no more custodial work for you, Mr. Swivel.”
got up and left without saying a word. Johnny had no intention of
going so quietly. Johnny
rose like a rusty hinge on the door of an abandoned
house. He leaned over
Hartman’s desk and looked at the smug face atop the gray
Johnny blew with all the force he could build in his lungs. The gum flew
the short distance
across the desk and stuck to the lens over Hartman’s left eye.
dribbles of spit slid down the principal’s cheek.
fucking joke, Hartman,” Johnny said as he too walked toward the
reached into the pocket of his suit jacket for his handkerchief. As
fast as his fingers
would work, he took off his glasses, first wiping the side of his
cheek and then scooping
Johnny’s gum off his lens. The smug look remained on
his face, the image of a
man who was overcome with satisfaction.
Johnny stopped short of the doorway. “You know it’s too bad old assholes
in your position never
look at the big picture. Me and the janitor’s little scuffle
was the right thing to
do. We didn’t go through the halls shooting mini-Uzis. We
settled it the
old-fashioned way. Maybe if you would’ve ever stood up for yourself
in school, you wouldn’t
have to get your rocks off by expelling good people.”
you will, because this will be the last time you ever say anything
in this school. Not
surprising though that our definitions of ‘good people’ are not
similar. I’ll take great
satisfaction in the thought that every time I drive through a
McDonald’s, you might be
fulfilling your life’s ambition flipping burgers.”
shook his head and walked into the hallway.
Heather stormed into the house, slamming the double doors behind her.
When her book bag fell
to the floor, she kicked it hard. Her calculus text slid
across the tan waxed
floor, bouncing off the staircase and racing toward the
kitchen like the disk
used in a curling match. Gina emerged from her relaxation
room holding a vase full
expelled from school today. You know he’s only on pace to
be the smartest student
ever to graduate from Collingston? He hasn’t missed a
single question in
Buttworst’s class. Do you know how impossible that is? What a
bastard that Hartman
“Oh, I’m so
sorry honey. Maybe he can find work at one of the factories or
go to another school.”
work in a factory? Are you hearing me mother? He’s a genius and
you want him to go
shovel shit at a factory. You are clueless.”
glanced down at the flowers and pressed her nose to the tops of them,
taking a deep breath.
She looked back up with a smile. “Maybe these will make
you feel better. They
came right before you got home.”
Heather looked the flowers over briefly and sat the vase on the table next to
the door. What she
really wanted was the small envelope in her mother’s hand.
There was no need to rip
it open; Gina had already taken care of that. Heather shot
her a look of
disgust—one that a parent would normally aim at her misbehaved
child. She didn’t bother
scolding her mother. Instead she grabbed the envelope
without saying thank
lit up at the sight of the long perfect cursive letters, all slanting at
the same angle, light
and swift like the brush strokes of a painter. Unmistakably
Roman’s prose. The small
card read: I’ve never been on a picnic
with a beautiful
woman before, by a
gurgling meadow, with the sun on my face, the trees swaying
overhead, and the birds
singing. I barely noticed any of it because of the face
looking back at me. It
didn’t matter that it was in a drab school hallway on hard
marble floor. I’ll never
forget it. Roman
read it three times before she looked up. Her heart couldn’t decide
if it wanted to cry or
rejoice. The last time she got flowers was from Johnny when
they were freshmen, the
day before Homecoming. It wasn’t the flowers that got to
her though. It was the
card. She couldn’t ever imagine his words getting old.
obviously read the card mother. Does this sound like something
Johnny would say?”
don’t know. He probably missed you. You two have been an item for
four years. It’s hard
for people to make a clean break. He’s still got feelings.”
he’ll have plenty of time to get over me now,” Heather said as she
put the card in her
pocket, picked up the vase, and retrieved her book bag.
“Johnny got expelled too.”
that can’t be right. Why would Mr. Hartman expel Johnny?
That...that janitor is
the one that beat him up. You must have heard wrong.”
Heather closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to hold down the
violent words. “Is your
sense of reality really that warped? Johnny’s the one that
started all this, Roman
was just defending himself and me. Johnny hit me
remember? Mistake or
not, he hit your daughter.”
just don’t believe it.”
not going to stand here and argue with you mother. You’re like
talking to a brick wall.
I’ve got a paper to write and I have to use your computer
because the word
processor on mine is the 1976 version.”
watched as Heather walked up the winding staircase. She put off her
loving mother routine,
and the manipulative synapses in her brain began to fire
once again. Her daughter
was not going to be with some vagrant janitor.
Especially since he
lived by himself and could talk her into sex any time he
wanted. Something had to
be done. It would come to her eventually. It always
Heather sat down at her mom’s computer, stationed in the computer room
two doors down from her
own. It was already on. Heather hit the space bar and
the screen saver of
Heather’s first dance recital disappeared. Gina’s email was
open. At first Heather
pointed the mouse at the X in the top right corner, but
something stopped her.
It was a word, no, a name, on her mother’s email page.
She wasn’t in the habit
of snooping through other people’s personal things—a sort
of hereditary trait that
she vowed not to pass on to children of her own. But this
was different. In the
sent items menu the named that appeared was Lyle Hartman.
wasn’t hard to pick up, since her mother was technologically deficient, and very
rarely used email. It
was one of two names that were entered. The other name was
one of Gina’s sorority
sisters that now lived in South Carolina.
Heather’s eyes narrowed as she looked at Hartman’s name. The little birdie
that had told Hartman
the story lived right here with her. Anger, not curiosity, got
the best of her as she
clicked on Lyle Hartman.
would like to bring something to your attention if it has not already been.
One of your new
students, Roman Swivel, violently attacked Johnny Killman on
Johnny was beaten so severely that he
did not attend school the
following day and should
have been hospitalized.
My daughter was also injured in
the attack, as well as
others. I know you that you find violence deplorable and I
would hope that you will
address the situation immediately before it becomes
public. Collingston High
needs to take a strong stand against outsiders who
ultimately are no more
than troublemakers. I hope you agree.
Thanks for your attention,
Although Heather’s mouth hung open while she read her mother’s email, it
didn’t shock her. Four
years ago she wouldn’t have thought her mother was
capable of such devious
activities, but living with the woman during her own
adolescence was like
being on a daily roller coaster ride of manipulation and lies.
Likewise, in her earlier
more naive years, Heather would’ve charged down the
stairs with printed
email in hand, ready to take her mother to war. But now she
simply printed the
email, folded it, and tucked it away in her backpack.
Ammunition for a rainy
day, she thought.
sat in Carl’s time-warped living room. The orange flowered walls and
the pea green sofa and
matching chair didn’t help fight the grayness outside or the
darkness that came only
an hour and a half after last bell. One thing that did help,
however, was the Old
Milwaukee. Not only did the beer go down smooth but also
the white cans seemed to
brighten the atmosphere a touch. Okay, going down
smooth was probably a
stretch, but beer is beer to a broke teenager. Carl always
started on the cheap
stuff—you could buy a case of the shit for the price you could
buy a twelve pack of the
more popular brands. I’m sure once he made it down to
the Tavern he would’ve
continued with it if they had it in stock.
gulped down the last fourth of the can, crushed it in his hand, shot it
into the garbage can at
the edge of the kitchen, and popped another open all in one
fluid motion—a routine
undoubtedly mastered by years of practice. “How’s the
premium treatin’ ya
raised my left thumb as I chugged the rest of my can, trying to keep up
with our host.
what beer is supposed to taste like. Not this fucking shit they sell now
by having some pretty
little cunny dance around in her skimpies in the
you didn’t watch TV, Carl?”
they have it on down at the watering hole. Almost impossible not to
watch it some, it is.”
another beer, conceding the fact that I would never be able to keep
up with him. I drank the
first sip slower this time and looked over at Roman. He
had a ginger ale in hand
and rocked back and forth in his chair listening to AM
music on the radio.
Roman was unfazed by his dismissal from Collingston. There
was no sign of sadness
in his face and no sense that he would fight to come back.
Just the same old Roman.
Quiet. Calm. He would have the same expression
whether he hit the
lottery or had a terminal illness with only days to live.
host on the call-in radio program was wrapping up a segment on the
Loch Ness Monster and
moving on to Big Foot. His in-studio guest was a Big
Foot expert—a man who
had tracked the beast for the better part of thirty years but
of course had no
tangible evidence. Sure, he offered his website address so you
could look at footage of
blotched images of something moving through the
bushes. But what was it?
Thirty years and all the man had to show for it was
footage of a bear eating
some berries at night.
host’s switchboard must have been lit up, because caller after
caller came on. There
was everything from eyewitness accounts of seeing the
creature to people
actually being attacked by it. Of course, none of the callers had
any photos or videos to
back up their stories. The host and the guest just kept
egging the callers on,
gobbling up every bit of it. Carl wasn’t far behind them,
shaking his head in
agreement once in a while after a swig of beer. Roman was in
his own mind somewhere,
staring through the wall on the other side of the room.
Probably trying to come
up with an equation disproving that any such Sasquatch
took another hard swallow, but almost spit it out when the next
segment of the radio
program came on—alien abduction. He leaned over to the old
radio and turned the
volume dial up. He stayed hunkered over it, his eyes wide and
his left ear to the
speaker, stroking the rubber band that tied the whiskers of his
with the endless callers, claiming this time to be kidnapped by aliens
in some fashion or
took a drink and shook my head. “You don’t really believe this shit do
nothing, still entranced with the stories of people not
hours out of their day, or waking up in a totally different
place than they fell
asleep, or having strange items in their bodies show up on an x-ray.
Carl sat back in his
chair seeming to be upset with the show. He lit his pipe
and scratched the top of
his head. “Not a one of ’em like mine.”
mean like yours?” I asked.
ones that tried to get me.”
had failed to spit out his beer, I succeeded, spraying every last
drop in a mist that
covered the room. Roman looked over and smiled as I wiped
my chin dry with my
you were abducted?” I said, trying my hardest not to laugh.
came over me until...
bastards did try.”
these aliens pulled you out of bed with their tractor beam or
Carl turned the radio completely off and took a hard drag off his pipe. He
looked at me with his
eyes squinted for several seconds, almost offended I’d
questioned him. “I was
asleep under a palm tree. It was the rainy season in Nam,
and when the rain
started, it didn’t stop for a month of Sundays I tell ya. It didn’t
stop those sons of
bitches though, they couldn’t stay away from it, no matter what
away from what?”
“Violence. Conflict. They were addicted to it. Not to take part, no, but to
observe. It fascinated
them. These visits had been going on for years. Clear back
to Biblical times.
Anytime there was a war, you could bet your sweet ass they’d be
looked at Roman, who was of course unmoved by Carl’s remarks.
Leaning over the edge of
the sofa, I sat my beer on the floor. Carl had my full
attention. I’d heard
countless tales from the man, and every time I went into them
the same way—thinking
there’s no chance in hell of one bit of truth in them. I
don’t know if it was the
way he told the story, his sincerity, or what, but I always
listened to the end. “So
the little green guys came at you underneath a palm tree?”
little nor green. But I was asleep under that tree, trying to get a little
shelter from that
goddamn rain. I was coming about, just a little before my alarm
on a second. You had an alarm clock with you?”
Before Carl could
explain Roman took over. “Soldiers drink an excessive
amount of water before
they go to sleep so their bladders wake them up in a couple
hours. That way they
never get into a really deep sleep.”
friend is right on the money. Nature’s alarm clock it is, unless
you’ve drunk too much of
the brew that is. Probably didn’t need it though.
Sleeping in the rain is
never easy. Those goddamn drops flicking your skull like
mama used to, only over
and over. And if you covered your face with your helmet
the rain just got
louder. It wasn’t the piss that woke me though. It was one of
those things you sense.
I kept hearing voices in my head telling me to get up,
many voices all at the
same time, not a one of ’em my own. Before I even opened
my eyes I would’ve bet
ya a buffalo nickel the Commie bastards were standing
right over me. I gripped
the trigger on my gun. One more little squeeze and I
would be cutting through
’em. But I opened my eyes instead and knew exactly
what was telling me to
get up. Directly over me was a long oval-shaped head with
the biggest teardrop
eyes you’d ever see. Black as coal they were. Took up about
half of the thing’s face
I guess. All at once the voices told me to stand up again. I
motherfucker, squeezing the trigger as I did. Before even one round
left the chamber, my gun
was sucked out of my hands and flew off to my right. I
knew now why there was
more than one voice. There was a bunch of ’em. Had
me surrounded they did.
All of ’em seven feet tall if an inch. Colorless. Slimylooking
like a gray frog. Long
fingernails, same black as their eyes. I don’t
remember seeing any
mouths or noses. We wish no violence the voices said
together again. Come
with us. I of course told ’em to go fuck each other.
expletives please. Come
with us. It was like I had to agree
to be taken. I don’t
know if it was their
morals or what have you. I told them this time to expletive
each other. The one in
front of me tilted his head, like he didn’t understand. There
was a long pause. I
could feel all those black-hole eyes on me, all over me. And
then it happened. The
one in front of, or all of em, I’m not positive, started to
choke me. They weren’t
using their hands either I tell ya. They were using the
same power they sucked
my weapon out of my hand with. I had one thought in my
brain. If I’m goin’ down
I’m taking these lizard bastards with me. I pulled a
grenade from my vest.
The pin snapped off automatically in those days. They
knew exactly what it
was. The moment I jerked it, they tried to suck it out of my
hand. This time though,
I held with all my strength. I could feel my windpipe still
choking and that awful
pull trying to ungrip my fingers. I guess they got frustrated
and the one in front of
me backhanded my arm and ripped my chest with those
long razor fingernails.
The grenade flew out of my hand a good distance. I took
about three steps and
dove on the ground. The grenade blew in mid air, knocking
the head clean off one
of the bastards. That same second the rest of them
evaporated into thin
air, leaving a vapor trail, like a mirage you see in the distance
on a hot day. And then
there was just me holding my chest.”
a brief smile. I’m not sure if it was because he liked the story,
or because he scoffed at
its likelihood. I took my half drunk can and wiped my
forehead, not because I
was hot, but more like my brain was overloading from the
tall tale. Carl simply
turned the radio back up and sat back in his chair, enjoying
his pipe once again. He
didn’t look at the expressions on our faces. He didn’t
care. He told us what he
thought had happened and could give a shit if we
believed him or not. We
all sat in silence for the rest of our visit.
Walking back across to Roman’s I remarked, “There’s no way that story
happened.” Roman said
nothing. I wanted a response. “You don’t believe in
aliens do ya?”
of there being intelligent life out there is greater than of it not
Johnny the Killer sat at the bar in The Tavern. There were a least two
empty bar stools on
either side of him. His only friend was the shot glass in front
of him. Johnny’s five
o’clock shadow was in full force making him look in his
thirties. The crowd kept
its distance, like there was an imaginary shield of hate
around him. His credit
card sat on the cash register—collateral for the tab. The
bartender filled his
glass with the Old No. 7 Brand as quick as the Killer could
telling how long Johnny had been drinking. His shoulders were
slouched over the shot
glass, his elbows on the bar. The only real way to tell if
he’d had his limit was
if someone’s head got smashed into one of the poker
machines. As of yet, the
machines were all still operational. There had been more
than one occasion where
Johnny was asked to leave after beating up some drunk
twice his age. He was
eighteen and had never been whipped in a bar fight. Never
been whipped anywhere
except one time, on Halloween, down in the Hollow.
Johnny started his drinking career about the same time most kids
started riding their
bikes around the neighborhood. He was always the first one of
our group to cross the
line into uncharted waters. The first to steal a candy bar
from the market. The
first to borrow one of our fathers’ dirty magazines. The first
to go down a girl’s
pants. The first to smoke a cigarette. Johnny did all these
things without getting
in trouble. His Pop was a big time salesman, always on the
road. His Ma worked in
an office, a nice enough lady. In the end Johnny’s antics
proved too much for her
to handle, and instead of punishing him, she chose to look
the other way.
just beaten the shit out of me, not a week ago, whipped me to
within an edge of my
life, betrayed our friendship—but somehow I felt sorry for
him. Deep down I still
thought of him as a friend. I was worried about what the
future held in store for
Johnny now. All the things that fate put in place to restrain
the Killer, like school,
baseball, and Heather, had disappeared overnight. I decided
to test the waters.
playin’ tonight?” I asked, pulling my money out for a draft.
Johnny continued to look
at his shot glass. “Drinking. Just drinking.”
gonna go to the school board over this suspension shit or what?”
seen him in two months.”
bartender filled his glass again.
business trip huh?”
filled Johnny’s face. He looked at me, holding the shot glass.
that’s it. Business. I guess if screwing some little blond in Indianapolis is
I’m sorry man. Does your Ma know?”
some love letters from his girlfriend when I was cleaning out his
Jag one day. Mom doesn’t
know.” Johnny threw back the whiskey once again. I
could see I was not
helping matters with my conversation selection. I opted to
grab my beer and head
for the back room.
dealing blackjack. I always hated when the guys got a wild hair
up their ass for
blackjack. Not that I hated blackjack; I’d play it once in awhile.
Six guys sat in front of
Pick as he dealt. By the looks of it, he was using
three maybe four decks.
To his left sat a stack of green, a good amount of which
had belonged to the
players that sat in front of him now. Sam Peterman still had a
fair wad of money in
front of him. Scotty and the others were not as fortunate. A
good time to suggest a
game change maybe.
boys?” I said as I sat smack-dab in the middle of the table.
That spot was no-man’s
land. If you’re going to play blackjack, you should always
sit at either third or
first base. If you’re at first, nobody can fuck up your cards by
taking stupid hits or
the lack thereof because you always go first. If you’re at third,
you can get a read on
how the cards are going and make a better guess on if you
should hit or stay
because everyone has already gone before you. “So who voted
for Pick to be the big
winner tonight anyway?”
“Blackjack is a
house game. And right now Pick is the house,” I said.
“I’m up, house or
no house,” Peterman responded.
“Give it some
time, Sam. Give it some time,” I said back.
“Nobody wanted to
play poker,” Pick chimed in as he raked more money
in. “Everybody’s burned
out on poker. We needed a change of scenery.”
Pick. What a fucking
coward. He sure as hell wouldn’t be playing if he
weren’t the dealer. I
can tell you that for sure. Seeing my suggestion was getting
nowhere, I took out my
money and laid it in front of me. A hundred and forty
bucks. My winnings from
the last two weeks.
limit anyway?” I asked.
you got?” Pick responded. His winnings had definitely
brought out the
cockiness in him.
“I want to bet
The other players
at the table were betting five’s and ten. Pick wasn’t
phased by my gesture
“That’s it?” he
There have always
been two cardinal rules for the house, whether it was in
the back room of a
broken down tavern in Collingston, Illinois, or at the highrollers
table at Caesar’s
Palace: keep them happy, and keep them playing.
I was about to
shoot the cardinal rules to shit. A sixty-dollar bet would
give me enough to double
down with if I got the right hand of course, and would
also allow me to leave
with twenty dollars in my pocket and a shred of dignity if I
lost. I was playing one
hand, win or lose.
was bet, the cards dealt. I had a six and a five. Pick showed a
six. This was the best
possible scenario for a blackjack player. The two guys
before me had thirteen
and fourteen and both stayed like they were supposed to. I
down. Pick itched his right eyebrow. The hundred and
twenty I had on the
table made the son of bitch sweat, even though he had three
times that much beside
him. Pick flipped my card—seven of hearts. That gave me
eighteen. In a perfect
world it would’ve been a face card, but eighteen wasn’t bad
against his six showing.
Scotty had twenty and stood. The guy next to him stood
on seventeen. Everybody
had played their hand right so far.
there was Sam Peterman at third base.
sixteen, which in normal circumstances was the worst hand you
could get. But Pick had
a six up, which to your seasoned blackjack player means
he’s got sixteen as
well. There was more of chance of him having a ten down than
any other single value.
It was cut and dry. Stay and let the dealer bust. Sam
hesitated though, as if
he was confused.
said. “He’s got sixteen.”
squinted at his cards. “I have a feeling he doesn’t have a ten down.”
what, you’ve got sixteen, you can’t take his bust card.”
Sam looked at Pick’s six
and then back at his own cards. “Nope. Go ahead
and hit me”
hesitation Pick flipped the card. Before the card hit the table I
knew what it was, and so
did my blood pressure. The queen of spades. Busted.
Pick was now a pig in
shit, grinning from ear to ear, the nervousness from my bet
long gone. The cocky
body language from ten minutes ago was back with a
vengeance. Pick dealt
his card—the five of diamonds. The table erupted in
cursing. Pick extended
his arm and pushed the money from one side of the table,
scraping up everyone’s
bets like a snowplow, all the while smiling.
twenty in my wallet gave a brief flicker, wanting to be let out to play.
Just one more hand.
I got up from the table, crushing any urge to lose my last
miserable twenty. I told
myself I was there for one hand, win or lose, and that’s
what I was going to do.
I learned along time ago that it was better to leave with a
penny in your pocket,
rather than just the lint.
one hand,” Pick said smiling as he shuffled.
always tomorrow, Pick. Always tomorrow.”
followed me to the bar. I wanted to get one more beer before I headed
for home. He looked like
the guy that just missed the game-winning free throw
with no time left on the
clock. I didn’t want to talk to him, but he still leaned
against the bar just
next of me.
Tony. That was stupid. I guess it wouldn’t be such a big deal if
you hadn’t had all that
money on the table.”
matter how much money I had out there Sam. That’s just dumb
card playing. You always
have to assume the dealer’s got a face down. Always.”
“I just had
a feeling. I don’t know. A voice inside told me to hit.”
I put my hand on his
shoulder like an older brother. “The next time you
hear that voice deep
inside ya, tell him to go to hell and never come back.”
ended up buying Sam a beer, a gesture for no hard feelings. I
told him he should buy
the other guys at the table a beer. He did.
I looked up
from my freshly poured beer and glanced around. Carl was
now in attendance
talking to some young guy. It was a deep conversation. Carl
was probably trying to
convince him that the earth really didn’t circle the sun or
some shit. The DA sat at
a table with his lawyer types. The same old faces sat on
stools in front of the
poker machines. Johnny was facing away from the bar
talking to some local
thugs, some of Freddy Flowers’s crew. Two low-lifes named
Bobby Dukes and Boochie
Anderson. They were always picking fights and shit.
Or tryin’ to pimp
hookers outside in the parking lot. Johnny was really living it up
with ’em though, like
they were long-lost friends. Bobby Dukes put something in
Johnny’s hand. They
tried to make it look like they were shaking hands.
swallowed my last gulp of beer as Johnny got up and walked to the
bathroom. I stopped to
take a piss on my way out as well. Johnny washed his
hands and looked in the
mirror above the sink, making an awful sound like he was
trying to suck snot from
his nostrils into his throat. His eyes were red and
watering. I stood at the
you my fuckin’ dad now? Mind your own goddamn business.”
your friend.” I had to talk a little louder because of the noise of
a sarcastic laugh. “Were.”
again?” I said.
my friend,” Johnny said as he stumbled out of the restroom door.
looking at my reflection in the mirror. The word “friend” echoed
first in my head and
then off the glass over the sink, bouncing off the reflection of
my eye. An eye that was
now fully open, but still a greenish-yellow.
Hartman ate as he drove to his castle, seeing the same skeleton
landscape that his
students saw on their way. November had finally won the battle,
strangling the last
colorful life out of the trees, turning the grass to brown, leaving
the skies overcast even
on a so-called nice day, and blowing its cold breath as a
warning that worse was
yet to come. It meant the smell of old furnaces, heavy
coats, scraping frost
off windshields, and worst of all—total darkness by five
hated November as well—but not for the same reasons. That
season for him meant
time off, for students as well as faculty. It meant anxious
inmates ready to break
for freedom on that Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It
meant his guards and
prisoners alike eating and laughing with loved ones. For him
it was just another
Thursday with Mom and Dad. It meant that the holidays would
soon be in full swing
and his subjects would be free, away from school and out on
their own for at least a
week, maybe more. Hartman was at his best when he was
working, when he had his
opened the door to his office. The lights were on sensors, and came on
when he entered. Hartman
set his briefcase where his desk should have been and
jumped in fright when it
hit the ground. He took his glasses off, looking the room
over with his own eyes.
The lenses weren’t playing tricks on him—the room was
bare. His desk was gone.
His computer gone. File cabinet—gone. Not even the
two hundred dollar fake
tree he had placed in the corner remained. He wanted to
call somebody but his
phone was also missing.
he cursed to himself.
As quick as
her name rolled off his lips Hartman turned and started for the
hallway. Hartman took
one step and hit a wall. Not a brick wall, but a soft mushy
one. Still that wall was
unmoving, blocking the width of the doorway.
Boss Chatterling said, towering over the warden.
Hartman either bounced
off of the janitor or shot back because of his own
fear. He put his glasses
back on and adjusted his tie, trying to compose himself.
meaning of this? Where is all of my stuff?”
stuff?” the boss responded, giving a brief sympathetic frown.
you mean, what stuff?” The lisps on Hartman’s ‘S’s’ were
coming out stronger now
in his agitated state. “My desk, computer, files. All of it.
Where is it?”
stuff. We’re doing a thorough cleaning of your office.
Shampooing the carpets,
washing down the walls, spraying for pests. All the
routine things. We took
your office and set it up down by the boiler room in the
basement. Right next to
my office actually.”
looked around his empty office again, noticing that the ceiling fan
had even been removed.
“Boiler room? How long is all this going to take?”
“A week. Two tops.”
weeks. I can’t be out of my office for two weeks. I demand
you bring my office
back. This is outrageous.”
I’ve already got my men preparing the carpet cleaner and
disinfectants. I can’t
change the plan of attack now. Besides, I told you we set
your office up down in
the boiler room, right next to mine.”
Hartman took a step back
and tried to read the Boss’s face. Then it hit him.
about that student janitor I suspended, isn’t it?”
“You mean the
best worker I’ve had in thirty years. The one that does the
work of three janitors.
The one who doesn’t take his break at the scheduled time
because he’s obsessed
with getting his work done. That student janitor?”
Hartman swallowed hard.
“Yes, I suppose that one.”
implying that I’m trying to make your life a living hell because
you’ve made mine one?
Are you implying that I’d use my leverage to some how
change your mind on a
discipline issue? Perish the thought.”
the top of his head. “The problem is I expelled another
student as well. If I
let one come back, I have to allow the other. The other one
spat at me and used foul
gave another sympathetic frown and patted Hartman with a stiff
tap on the shoulder that
almost knocked the small man over. “Well, it sure will be
nice having you right
next door for a couple of weeks.”
Chatterling turned to
Wait. I’m going to look like a fool if I let a student spit on me and
come back to school the
already look like a fool, Lyle. But it’s better to be a fool with an
office, than a fool
without. Don’t you agree? We’ll get to work cleaning up here
and as soon as I see my
janitor skipping through the halls, I bet we can get your
office back together
lickity-split. I’m sure you’ll do the right thing.”
next to me at our table, skipping her meal and pretending to
look over her notes for
a test she had next hour. Her eyes wandered the page,
trying to find something
that wasn’t there. The usual jubilant smile that could light
up a room was nothing
more than two lips pressed together.
joined our table, having no other choice really. Johnny was gone
and the thought of
eating alone was more than Jack could bear. Even the cruelest
of souls needed some
kind of companionship I guess. Jack’s eyes were nervous,
looking at the faces
around the table, like the faces were new. Jack spent his whole
life being a right-hand
man and now that the boss was gone he was no longer
electricity that had filled our table and the whole cafeteria with
Roman’s standing ovation
was gone. Today was just another day. Sam and Scotty
picked at their food.
Pick had no snide remarks for me or the rest of the gamblers.
There was no stuttering
from Brunno, although he did manage to wolf down four
pieces of pizza in
“So have ya
talked to Roman since he was expelled?” I asked Heather.
didn’t register at first. She continued to look over her notes.
Finally she said, “No.
He sent some flowers with a note, but I haven’t heard from
huh? That guy’s turnin’ into a real Casanova I tell ya. First
romancing ya in the
closet, then the candlelight dinner, now flowers. So what’s the
story with you two
respond, but as hard as she tried to fight it her smile finally
broke through. I hadn’t
seen her look that way in years, probably since she and
Johnny first started
Roman’ll stay around now that he’s been suspended? I mean he
can’t do the janitor
thing any more. Why the hell would a guy as smart him stay in
The cold winters and shit. If I were him, I’d find a nice
beach to call home, like
the one in his room that he told us about. Besides he can’t
stay in one place too
long, on account of that Johnson character finding him.”
Heather looked up from
her paper with a sudden sense of urgency. She had
known Roman only three
months, had lived a lifetime before him, but now
couldn’t imagine a life
without him. “He won’t,” she said to reassure herself.
home. People care about him here.”
to do is to get your parents to throw a fit with the school board.
cave to anybody. Hartman’s got to do what they say. The only problem is,
obviously doesn’t have any parents to throw a fit for him.”
“I think none of
that will be necessary,” Roman said standing behind
with lunch tray in hand.
kiss a sick dog’s ass. How the hell?” I said.
scooted a chair up to the table and sat down between us. “It was the
Principal Hartman’s secretary called and said that he had made a
mistake. She said Johnny
and I were reinstated immediately. So I walked up here
just in time for lunch.”
you’re back. Thanks for the flowers,” Heather said.
“Somebody went to
bat for ya. Any ideas?” I asked.
maybe?” Heather said.
Hartman hates Buttworst. Probably because all the students like
him. It had to be
somebody with a little pull. Somebody who had a little power
over the warden. It
couldn’t have been the school board. They wouldn’t have met
yet. I bet it was the
that’s exactly who it was,” Heather stated. “I’m a student helper
second hour for Mrs.
Petway. All of the call slips were coming out of the
basement. They moved
Hartman’s office down there because they were cleaning
his real office.”
more than just cleaning for Chatterling or what?” I said with a
smiled. “Just the cleaning, Tony.”
The little table
Johnny had been sitting at recently was empty. No Killer.
circumstances Johnny would probably get reinstatement from
Hartman’s office and
just decide to skip the rest of the day. There was something
more though this time. I
had a feeling Johnny wasn’t coming back.
you two give a shit, but I saw Johnny last night at the Tavern
snortin’ the nose
candy,” I told them.
right. I don’t give a shit,” Heather responded.
wrong with him, I mean more that just being embarrassed
about the fight. It’s
like his spirit is broken or something. He was down there last
night shooting whiskey,
which isn’t odd I guess, but he was doing it by himself.
to anybody the whole night, except for some of Freddy Flowers’s
Flowers?” Roman asked before slurping the applesauce off
what bothers me. Freddy is bad news. He’s the biggest thug in
three counties. Got his
hands in about everything you can think of. Drugs,
prostitution—you name it. He runs a string of flower shops all over
Central Illinois, so he
can launder the money from his real businesses. Johnny’s
gonna be looking through
the wrong side of iron bars if he keeps hanging with
deserves it,” Heather said.
will come out of it,” Roman said, seeing I was genuinely
didn’t go for his cart after the janitor assignments were handed out
at roll call. Instead he
remained standing in the same spot, like a soldier waiting to
be spoken to by his
on your mind, Swivel?” The Boss asked.
wanted to let you know that I can work late tonight and I wanted to
held up her hand stopping Roman in mid-sentence.
appreciation you can show me Swivel is to just do the same kind
of work you’ve done
since the day you walked in here. You know I’m not one for
mushy thank you’s.
Besides that, when given a chance to put the screws to that
little pip squeak, I
usually jump at it.”
respect Roman stood at attention until she had left the room. He
grabbed his cart and
made his way to the elevator. On the third floor he began the
routine, thinking all
the while about Heather. He mopped the floor and thought of
their picnic. He emptied
the trash and thought of the note he’d written with the
flowers; if it was too
sappy Heather had made no indication at lunch. The note
said how he truly felt.
He scraped the gum off of the chairs and thought of her lips
on his. He sprayed down
the windows, and every time he wiped one of the panes,
he wished her green eyes
were in the reflection, looking from behind at him again.
started the walk home promptly at midnight. As he made the turn
down the big hill on the
north side of Kingdom Street, he saw that all his wishes
had come true. Heather
sat in her Mustang, waiting. Roman sped up down the
incline turning his walk
into a jog, and by the time he reached the house he found
out of the car. It always surprised him when her face turned
out more beautiful than
the way he last remembered it, even if only hours had
passed since their last
encounter. “I know we didn’t have plans, but I had to…”
Roman stopped her short.
“You don’t ever need an invitation, Heather.”
Heather sat on the couch
as Roman changed out of his gray janitor suit.
away because that was what a nice young lady did. Because that’s
what would please her
mother. But she looked at Roman’s reflection in the
window at the far end of
the living room because that’s what she wanted to do. He
changed quickly, but
there was a time when he was in nothing more than
underwear. She saw the
definition in his biceps, the six-pack of his abdomen, and
sadly the scars on his
back—a permanent gift from Ed Pentoch.
snapped back into real time by a fully-clothed Roman standing
in front of her.
“There’s a late movie playing at the dollar theater. I thought we
movie?” Heather asked as if it mattered.
Roman responded with a grin.
“I don’t know,
boxing? It wouldn’t be my first choice.”
down on the couch and took her hand in his. “You’ve never
seen it? Because if you
had seen it, you would know that it’s not about boxing. It
is a love story, the
original one was anyway. I will make you a deal. If you don’t
like it, you can pick
the movies from now on.”
story huh? All right. But I hope you can take a steady diet of
Susan Sarandon crying
her eyes out from now on if I’m not impressed.”
Roman thought he would seal the deal with a quick handshake.
Heather had a different
idea, which lasted several minutes.
They had to
park what seemed like a mile away. They held hands while
they wove in and out of
the rows of cars, laughing and talking. “Jeez, all these
people here to see a guy
get his brains beat out when they could rent it and watch it
at home,” said Heather.
the same as the theater,” Roman responded.
Heather opened her purse
at the ticket window, but Roman clamped it shut
a second later. “Even a
janitor can afford the dollar show Heather: tickets,
popcorn, the works.”
was packed, mostly with people in their thirties and forties,
mostly men who assured
their wives that they would like the flick, mostly die-hard
fans. Heather and Roman
sat two rows from the back. Heather tried to lead him to
the middle of the row
but Roman stopped her at the first two seats, so he could sit
on the aisle. A position
in the theater where he could make a quick escape, not
having to trample over
feet, popcorn, and drinks. A position Heather thought came
now by instinct,
engraved in his mind by the years of running.
point in the movie Heather had raised the armrest between them,
taken Roman’s arm, and
put it around her. She laid her head on his shoulder. It
might have been when
Rocky told Adrian that his father wanted him to develop his
body because he didn’t
have much of a brain and Adrian told Rocky her mother
told her just the
opposite. It might have been when Rocky told Adrian that it really
did bother him that
the press was out to make him a fool. Or when Rocky took off
Adrian’s glasses for the
first time in his apartment. Whenever it was, Heather
wanted to be close to
Roman. Either to share the moment or to ensure that he
wouldn’t run, at least
back to the car with their arms around each other, as the
crowd rushed by. The
people even at this late hour were in a hurry to be
somewhere else. Heather
and Roman were in slow motion, trying to get nowhere
at all. Before long they
were the only two left in the parking lot, taking baby steps
back to the Mustang.
“So, am I
in for a lifetime of tear-jerkers?” Roman asked.
“I really liked
it. Two lonely souls finding each other in your not-so-average
circumstances is a
concept I like. It’s funny how your expectations play a
big role in your
perception of a movie. I went into it thinking the worst. So
anything worthwhile in
the movie made it really good. I don’t see why you liked it
though, as a man I mean.
After all he went through, all that training and abuse, he
still lost in the end.”
would have been terrible if he had won. The point was that a
so-called bum off the
street went the distance with the greatest fighter in the world
just because of his
pulled up in front of Roman’s. Heather walked with him up
to the porch. Their eyes
were close to each other. “My mother wants to have you
over for dinner on
Sunday. It makes me sick to my stomach. She’ll be a saint to
your face. The only
reason I agreed is maybe if she meets you in person, she’ll get
off my back and see what
to,” Roman responded.
will like you. He’s a really good guy, just misled sometimes by
All of it
was conversation for what they both really wanted to say, all a
distraction from Roman
inviting her in, from Heather accepting, a detour to keep
her from spending the
night and sleeping in his bed. As much as Roman wanted it,
deep down he knew it
wasn’t time. In the end Heather got back in her car and