Warning: This work has been rated 16+.
Chapter 2 - Part 2
“Mikey, you good?” Zane was staring at him and he realized he’d been silent all through lunch.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m good.” He smiled but it felt tight. “Just tired from work.”
“Dad said you’re kicking ass!” Zane said cheerfully.
“It’s a good job.”
Jack poked at the fish patty on his tray. “It’s great until you get your arm chopped off in one of the saws.”
Zane pinched the bridge of his nose in clear annoyance as he replied, “Dude, it happened one time and it was 'cause the saw was a piece of shit.”
The other two started bickering and Mikey tuned them out. His father was already gone to the hospital when he woke up that morning. He didn’t know why it bothered him as much as it did. It was common for William to disappear for weeks at a time due to work, but this left a cold knot in Mikey’s stomach.
“Hey, Zane, want the rest of my lunch?”
“Well, yeah, but why?”
“I’m just not really hungry.” He pushed the tray over. Zane immediately dug in.
“Is something wrong?” Jack asked. His hazel eyes narrowed.
“Honestly, just had a rough morning. Gonna go get some air.”
He went out to the front steps of the school and was surprised to find Sophie sitting by herself on the rough brick. He hovered on the top step, realizing this didn’t fit into his plan to be alone.
Just as he started to turn and head back inside, she glanced over her shoulder. “Oh, hey!”
He froze, smiling at her awkwardly. “Uh, hey. Didn’t know anyone was out here.”
“Well, now you do. What’s up?”
“I was just coming out to get some air. I don’t wanna interrupt.” He remained where he was, unsure of what to do.
“Interrupt what? Do I look busy?” She grinned at him and patted the step she was sitting on. “C’mon, I’m not contagious.”
He sat down gingerly, leaving almost a foot of space between them. The sky was overcast and promised rain. Tornado season was right around the corner.
“This is a cute town,” Sophie said after a brief moment of silence.
“Yeah, you know. It’s quaint. Doesn’t seem busy.” She sat there, tapping her foot lightly against the step beneath her. Her hair was held back with a headband today and had a slight waviness to it. She wore a faded Led Zeppelin shirt and bootcut jeans. Her left ear, the one he could see, was double pierced with two small silver studs.
“Yeah, nothing happens here.”
“That’s not a bad thing.” She glanced at him. “Do you like it here?”
‘It’s not bad. We moved here like twelve years ago and it’s been nice. Crime is pretty low. Everybody knows everybody.”
“Your friends seem interesting.”
“My friends?” Mikey looked at her, honestly puzzled.
“Yeahhhh, ya know, those two guys who sit with you every day at lunch?”
“Oh, they’re not really friends, they just sit at my table since you kinda took theirs.”
“Shit, really?” She laughed, looking up at the clouds. “Well, I hate to break it to you but they’re definitely your friends from what I can see. They could have found another table by now.”
This took him by surprise. “What, do you spy on us during lunch?”
“I gotta make sure you don’t decide to kick a linebacker in the balls.” She stood, stretching. Her spine cracked in several places.
“Hey, they just caught me on a bad day.” As he got to his feet, he realized the irony of that statement. Right now, he’d kill for his biggest worry to be a wrecked bike.
“Well, I got class. It was good talking to you. Mikey, right?”
She ran up the steps and held the door open. “Listen, if you’re not busy on Saturday, you should come over. My parents are having a housewarming barbecue and I sort oftold them I’ve been making friends at school, so...they expect me to invite people.”
Mikey stared at her. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, trust me, you’ll be doing me a favor. Invite your not-friends too, if you want. I’m the last house on Scholar Road. Be there by four!”
Mikey quickly lost himself in loading pallets at work that afternoon. Three of the older employees were leaning by the bay doors on their cigarette break, talking. They would occasionally toss him a word of advice or a good-natured insult, but for the most part he enjoyed listening to them drone on about the weather.
Old Ned Ferguson was busy telling the others how bad the rainy season was going to be. They disagreed, but Ned reminded them all that he hadn’t been wrong in the last two decades.
Alongside forestry, Kentlee had a strong agricultural trade. They regularly exported wheat, sorghum, and alfalfa to the neighboring cities to be used as animal feed.
When Mikey was eleven, a flood had wrecked many of the farmers’ crops. It took the town a full year to recover financially. The local farmers were arrogant and annoying for the most part, but the entire town shared in their hardships.
Thunder rumbled in the distance. “I told you,” Ned gloated. He looked over at Mikey. “Get your ass in gear, Bub. Those crates ain’t gonna hold up in rain.”
The three men finished their smokes and helped Mikey load the rest of the pallets. They had just moved the last crate inside when it began to pour. Standing just inside, they watched lightning flicker in the distance.
“I get to walk home in this.” Mikey sighed.
Eugene, a bowlegged old man missing his right ring finger, smacked him on the back. “Nah, I’ll drive you home, son. Go get your shit.”
Mikey grabbed his backpack and loaded into Eugene’s battered Dodge pickup. The old man drove in silence for awhile, then he spoke without looking away from the rain-covered road. “I heard you had a problem with my grandson.”
“Aaron. Big dumb kid. Plays for the football team.”
“Ah, yeah. Sorry, I didn’t know he was your grandson.”
“No need to be sorry. I’m glad someone finally rung his bell,” Eugene said with a small chuckle. He tapped his calloused thumbs on the steering wheel. Lightning flashed across the sky again, much closer this time. The rhythmic whooshing of the windshield wipers was strangely soothing to Mikey.
“What do you mean?” he asked. “You’re not mad?”
“I ain’t stupid, I see how he treats folks. I’m sure he did something to deserve that bloody nose he’s been whining about.”
“He was making fun of a classmate.”
“Sounds about right. I’m glad you did the right thing, son.”
Mikey chuckled. “That’s not what I was expecting to hear. It’s this road up here, by the way.”
Eugene turned onto the road that was Mikey’s driveway. He looked at the broken fence as they passed, but said nothing. The rest of the drive was silent.
“Thanks for the ride, Eugene.”
“Anytime, son. See you tomorrow.”
Mikey stood in the yard, watching the elderly pickup retreat down the wooded drive. Rain and wind thrashed him. Lightning painted the treeline in stark, contrasting shades. He tilted his face upward, closing his eyes to the stinging raindrops. Spring storms had a smell different from any other kind of storm; not only that, but a good squall in the country was unlike one in the city. Out here, the air lacked the overwhelming scent of traffic, factories, and dumpsters – smells he had grown up around.
In the city, there were no trees to rustle together in the wind. Cows didn’t bawl from the safety of big, rustic white barns when a storm was approaching. There was no metal windmill from 1934 screeching in a high wind.
Though he was soaked to the skin, he stood outside a few minutes longer to watch the clouds racing by overhead. They were cumulonimbus, meaning heaped. The setting sun tinted them a subdued orange-gray.
Finally, he made his way to the house, taking his sodden tennis shoes off and leaving them on the covered front porch to dry.
The front room was warm and smelled like flowers. The place always smelled pleasant but, since receiving The News, Vicki had been going out of her way to overflow every room with brightness and good vibes. He could hear her humming somewhere in one of the nearby rooms.
He headed upstairs, only to run into his father on the second floor landing. The man was shuffling down the steps from the third floor, wearing his pajamas and a nice flannel bathrobe. His normally tidy brown hair was now a bird’s nest. He was in need of a trim. A healthy amount of stubble had grown on his cheek and jaw. Fixing a flat brown gaze on Mikey, he said, “Oh, Michael. You’re home late.”
“I was at work.”
“Work?” William echoed.
Mikey noted with unease that the timbre was gone from his voice. “Yeah, I’ve been working at the lumber yard.” When there was no response, he added, “I’ve been working there for about a week.”
“A week? That’s good.” William started to shamble past him, heading downstairs.
Mikey shifted from one foot to the other, then glanced at the third-floor staircase. “Hey, Dad?”
He paused, debating what to say. “I’m, uh, doing a report on Greek civilization, think I could get a refresher on some of the pottery upstairs?”
They stood together, staring at William’s years of collecting. It was just like when Mikey was little, aside from his slouching father with the lifeless voice. Despite his illness, he easily recounted the history behind every piece Mikey asked about.
William took a shaky breath after a while, rubbing at his eyes. “My throat is getting sore. Do you have what you need?”
“Yeah. Thanks, Dad.”
They headed back downstairs. After a few steps, William faltered slightly, his right leg buckling. Mikey grabbed his elbow, taking the weight and stabilizing him. William muttered a thanks as they kept walking, Mikey holding tight to his father’s arm. He walked him to his room and opened the door for him.
“Thank you, Michael.”
“No problem.” Mikey hovered in the doorway. Unfamiliar words popped into his head and out of his mouth before he could process them. “I love you, Dad.”
William paused without turning. “I love you too, Michael. I’m going to sleep now.”
Mikey shut the door gently and headed back down the hallway to the foyer. I love you too, Michael.
‘Michael’, like he was just another lecturer or colleague. Never Mikey, or son, or champ, or any of the hundreds of remotely loving things fathers called their sons.
Even with cancer gnawing at his brain and chemo irradiating his blood, William couldn’t muster up the heart to be a loving father.
William eased onto the bed, carefully kicking off his moccasins. His throat felt like granite and his stomach was cramping dully. A smear of bruises covered his left forearm where he had hit it on the doorway the day before. The two trips up to his antiques room had drained him completely. Years of keeping his body physically fit were now rendered worthless.
The cramps turned to nausea as he reclined onto his pillow. Suddenly pain radiated from the back of his neck and everything wavered out of focus. His head buzzed as an unexpected bout of hunger swept over him. It was the deepest hunger he had ever felt.
His hand flew to the lump which had just recently grown under the skin at the base of his skull. The feeling subsided and he grabbed his water bottle with his free hand. A few gulps soothed his aching throat. The buzzing was gone now as well.
As he drifted into what would be an uneasy sleep, he smiled and remembered his son’s words. I love you, Dad.
Mikey couldn’t sleep. It was 3am and already shaping up to be a bad day. The events of the night were still rattling around in his skull. Being awake at 3am on a Wednesday guaranteed he’d sleep through his morning classes.
He rolled out of bed, then slipped on a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and his work boots. With his phone and a small flashlight in one pocket, his popped a joint behind his ear and opened his bedroom door. He rarely snuck out at night but his few excursions had given him a chance to learn all the creaks of the house.
The front door was the loudest in the building, but lifting up on the handle guaranteed a quiet open. He slipped outside, into a warm and breezy night. The rain had passed, leaving clear skies.
He headed east across the sprawling, still-damp lawn. There was a path through the trees which could easily have been mistaken for a deer trail. Mikey switched on his light and made his way along the path, easily dodging low-hanging branches. After almost 20 minutes of walking and a quick duck under a barbed wire fence, he came out on the parking lot of what had once been the Kentlee Cinema. The brown stucco siding had flaked off in huge chunks, and the windows were hastily fenced off with thin boards in the shape of an X. A large hole had been chopped in the locked Employees Only door at the back of the building.
Stooping low, Mikey crept in through this makeshift door. The staff room was empty except for a few mismatched chairs brought in by teenagers. The swinging double-doors that led to the front lobby were propped open with cinder blocks.
The walls, an attractive dark red, were covered in the expected amount of graffiti, mostly the musings of drunk, lovestruck, or angry kids with cheap cans of spray paint.
Mikey went out into the lobby and seated himself right in the middle of the floor, where moonlight leaked in through the boarded windows. Two of them had been partially broken, letting in just enough air to keep it from being stifling inside.
He pulled his lighter out of the breast pocket of his t-shirt and lit up the joint, taking a deep drag off it. He coughed a few times, waiting for his thoughts to calm.
And they did. The anger slowly dissipated and he became aware of the chirping of crickets from both inside the building and out. An owl hooted aggressively in the woods nearby.
He was halfway through the joint when a shot echoed through the lobby. Instinct told him to get up and run. Then it happened again and he realized it wasn’t a gunshot.
Something was hitting the front of the building. Suddenly the window directly in front of him shattered in the lower corner, and a spray of glass peppered the floor near him. A large rock rolled to rest next to his leg.
“What the fuck?” He stood, flinching when a smaller stone cracked the same window, near the middle. “Hey!” he shouted.
The rocks stopped, and there was silence. He stood there, considering whether to confront or flee. The moonlight was incredibly distracting now that he was high, and his thought process had slowed.
“Hello?” a female voice called faintly from outside.
He approached the broken window cautiously and peered out through the hole under the crossed boards. Sophie was standing a few feet from the window, another rock in her hand. She half-raised it to throw, then narrowed her eyes at him. “Mikey?”
“Cease fire?” he said hopefully. He was glad that it was really her and that his brain hadn’t been playing tricks on him in the dark.
She came over, leaning down to look at him. “What are you doing?” Her nose twitched suddenly, and she arched an eyebrow. “Oh.”
He was aware of the smoke still drifting lazily around him. “Waiting for the late showing of Goosebumps. What about you?”
“I’m more of an Alien kinda girl.” She dropped the rock. It occurred to him that her hair was a mess. He thought of his father’s own nest of hair and absurdly wondered if she was sick too.
“What’s with the rocks?”
She shrugged, looking over at the plywood-covered front door. “How did you even get in there?”
“There’s a door around back, it’s the VIP entrance.”
Without a word, she disappeared. After about a minute, he saw a light shining around in the staff room.
“In here,” he called.
Sophie came into the lobby, casting her phone’s flashlight around the room. The ancient popcorn machine, the crumbling ticket counter, the lone poster advertising a B-movie from the 90’s. “This place is amazing.”
“Yeah, I like it.”
She turned her light on him like an interrogator and giggled. He squinted, his eyes sensitive from the high. “Is this a normal Day in the Life of Mikey?”
“Special occasion. Do you usually throw rocks at innocent buildings?”
“Special occasion.” She turned off her light and Mikey was unable to see anything for a few seconds. When his eyes adjusted, she was nearer now and smirking.
He offered the smoldering joint without thinking. “Want some?”
“Hell yes. Thanks.” She took a deep hit from it and started coughing violently. He took it from her outstretched hand before she dropped it.
She seated herself on the floor with a soft thump. Wheezing, she gave him a thumbs-up. “Good shit.”
He sat down opposite her, being careful to avoid the glass from the broken window. “Take it slow, Chong.”
“Yeah, I haven’t smoked in ages.” She took a deep breath, coughed once more, then cracked her neck. “I missed it.”
They sat in silence for a while, then she turned her scrutiny on him. “For real, though. Why’re you out here?”
He had been staring up at the high ceiling, which he couldn’t see in the dark, but now he looked at her. A strip of moonlight was illuminating half of her face.
“Just didn’t wanna be at home.”
“You?” he asked, his eyes locked on the twinkle of her earrings. Shiny things always fascinated him when he smoked.
She was quiet for so long that he didn’t think she would answer. Finally, she replied, “Heard some middle-schoolers talking about it. I needed to let off some steam.”
“If you wanna do that without, you know, damaging the place, the first theater room is filled with old shit. People come out here and kind of...donate, I guess. Old TVs, computers, furniture. There’s a baseball bat by the door.”
“That sounds nice.”
“Yeah, people really seem to like it.”
She was quiet again, picking at a rip in the knee of her jeans.
He took another hit and offered it to her, but she shook her head. Another owl had joined the screeching contest outside. Coyotes could be heard somewhere in the distance. Mikey grew uncomfortable, wishing she would do something besides sit there in silence. He squirmed.
”First theater room?” she asked quietly.
“Yeah.” He pointed toward a doorway opposite the front door, beside the entrance to the staff room. From there, it was a long hallway leading to the right, with doors for the two theater rooms and restrooms.
“I’ll remember that. And sorry about the window.”
“It’s okay. At least it was just the one.”
She picked at the rip a little more aggressively.
“You okay, Sophie?”
“I fucking hate it here, honestly.” She ran her free hand over her face, the illuminated half looking suddenly exhausted. “No offense.”
“None taken. Why?”
“This isn’t home and I’m supposed to be acting like it is. I didn’t wanna be here in the first place.”
He nodded quietly, remembering the move from Boston to Kentlee when he was five.
“It’s so stupid,” she growled. The sound fascinated him. “They’re treating me like a fucking...reprobate!”
He blinked. “Reprobate?”
“I dunno, I think it means hooligan.” She let out a little laugh. “Sorry, I forgot how it feels to be high.”
He smiled, deciding not to ask who ‘they’ were. Her sudden anger seemed to have vanished. She was now surveying her surroundings again. “Think you’ll be able to make it on Saturday?”
“The cookout at my place.”
He flushed slightly. He had completely forgotten about it. “Oh, right.”
She shook her head. “You know you don’t have to come over if you don’t want to, right?”
“No, no, it sounds fun. It’s just been a weird week.” I love you too, Michael. Weird seemed like an understatement at this point.
“What’s your number?” Sophie’s voice broke through his thoughts.
“El telephono.” She tapped hers, which was laying on the floor beside her. “El numero. I’ll text you a reminder on Saturday if you want.”
“Oh, right.” He rattled the number off to her, and she entered it into her phone.
“Well,” she said. “It is now almost 4am, and I dunno about you but I need to be getting home before my folks wake up.”
He nodded and followed her out. The wind had picked up again, rocking the trees. Something occurred to him. “You walked all the way here alone? It’s pretty far to your road.”
“It’s not too far.”
“Yeah but...you’re...a girl. And it’s dark.”
She turned to look at him, surprise clear on her face before she smiled. “No one bothered me on the way here. I’ll be okay. You look like you need some sleep.”
He thought about arguing, but the fatigue was kicking in and he knew within reason that she could stay on well-lit streets. “Okay, well...be safe.”
She waved and headed toward the far end of the parking lot, toward the road. He slipped into the woods.