Homecoming by fjwuxn

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									             HOMECOMING



                   by



               Larry Dawson




Homecoming
       Homecoming . . . that time when lost souls shamble back to their alma mater,

reminisce about the years before they realized they were losers, and observe how the

faculty and each other have aged, all while watching the home team lose yet again.

Homecoming 1999 would be no different. With the locals fighting to keep the score

below three digits, a shiver compelled me to zip up my letterman's jacket, jam my hands

into the flannel lined pockets and go grab a soda.

       The concession booth was much like the town of Pine Mountain since the mill

had closed: fading and on the verge of collapse. A pizza-faced band member smiled and

served warm soda and cold hot dogs to a line of lifeless students and alumni. They were

as dead as the town.

       Waiting for my drink, I glanced around. The place looked more like a cemetery

than a football field. The light towers, some only half lit, rocked in the breeze, causing

the numerous shadows to dart and flow around the field as if they were alive. The

concrete bleachers, cracked, discolored and weathered, resembled stone monuments in a

nearly deserted graveyard. I honestly think the football players outnumbered the crowd

that night. I paid for my drink with a crumpled dollar bill and headed for the gate,

looking at the scoreboard with disgust. Years ago, we used to win, but that was even

before my parents went here. The lopsided score on the board was hypnotic, like

watching a traffic accident. Two or three steps later, I collided with an unsuspecting

cheerleader, pouring the entire drink down the front of her uniform.

       Oh, shit! I couldn't believe I'd done that. I quickly grabbed some napkins, shoved

them at her, and began fumbling over an apology. Knowing the girls at my school, I was




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about to be verbally reamed. Then . . . laughter. A girlish giggle mixed with more

womanly laugh. She actually found it funny.

       She graciously accepted the napkins and began to wipe herself off. “Don't worry

kid, it's only soda, it'll wash out. Believe me, this get-up has seen much worse.”

       I was really glad she wasn't pissed. Watching her wipe off the soda, I noticed the

faded green and yellowing white of the outdated uniform. The outfit looked like

something out of my mother's annual. Then it clicked! I had just spilled my soda on one

of the alums. Curious, I looked to the sleeve where cheerleaders customarily sew on their

graduation year.

       There it was, „69‟. Sixty-Nine? I must have been mistaken. I looked again. Sure

enough, two black numbers: six and nine. Now, if she was 18 when she graduated, that

would mean she was born in 1951 . . . no way was this girl almost fifty years old;

nineteen or twenty perhaps, but definitely not older than my mom. Maybe she borrowed

her mother's uniform. Maybe the „sixty-nine‟ was a joke.

       I put the outfit out of my mind for a moment and focused on the girl. Now, if she

were a horse, I would have guessed her to be only about 13 hands high . . . but she wasn't

(a horse, that is), which made her barely five foot tall with a smile that could melt steel.

A gust of air, cold and damp, blew through the stadium. Platinum blonde hair, short and

spiky, resisted the breeze and held its ground. I shivered, but she just smiled and looked

up at me with eyes darker than a moonless night, yet warm and friendly. I couldn‟t help

but smile back. Her face, pearly white in complexion, glowed with spirit that was sorely

lacking in the locals.




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           “Good game, huh?” I said jokingly, trying to ease my embarrassment and break

the ice.

           “Yeah, if you like blowouts,” she responded, tossing the wet napkins in the trash.

“You know, they used to win when I went here.”

           “You went here?”

           “Of course. Aren't we allowed back on homecoming?” she asked, pretending to

be hurt.

           “Yeah, sure.” I was confused. “I just saw the 69 on your uniform and assumed

that it was your mother's or something.”

           She looked at her left sleeve for a moment and laughed. “Oh, crap! Guess I

sewed it on backwards. That should be „96‟ not „69.” She paused for a moment. “Class

of „69 . . .” she grimaced. “Oh god, that would make me forty-eight! Now I feel really

stupid.”

           Not as stupid as I felt. I really had felt bad about spilling the drink on her and

wanted to do something about it. “Is there anything I can do? I mean, like pay to get

your uniform cleaned or something?”

           She smiled once again. “I really don't think that‟ll be necessary, but I better get

my jacket or something; can‟t stand the feeling of cold wind on wet skin.”

           How thoughtless could I have been? “Here, maybe this‟ll help,” I said, taking off

my letterman‟s jacket and putting it around her. “After all, I don't want you to get sick

and die on my account.” She looked at me and choked back a giggle while putting her

arms through the sleeves and pulling the front tight about her.




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       “Thanks, kid, and don't worry,” she raised her right hand, as if to take an oath, “I

promise not to get sick and die.”

       The forest green letterman's jacket with its black vinyl sleeves had never looked

better than it did now embracing her tiny form.

       “So, what brings you back to Pine Mountain?” I asked, curious as to what could

actually bring someone back.

       “Well, I just wanted to come home again, that's all.”

       “Run into anyone you know?”

       “No. Haven‟t really been looking though. It just doesn't seem to be the same as

when I left,” she said, looking around the stadium, a hint of sadness on her face.

       I knew what she meant. “Tell me about it. I can't wait to get out of here. When I

graduate in the spring, I'm gone. I‟ve got a baseball scholarship waiting for me at USC.

No more freezing winters and boring nights, just fun in the California sun!”

       I jumped as the PA speaker crackled to life and belched out “Touchdown, St.

Andrew‟s”. The game was hopeless, but maybe the night wasn‟t. “Hey, since you

haven‟t found anyone you know, why don‟t I help you look around? There has to be

somebody here from only three years ago.”

       “Thanks, but I was actually about to leave. I never was one for cold weather.”

       My heart sank. I was just getting to talk to her and she was gunna bolt.

       She paused, noticing my disappointment. “But I would be grateful if you would

escort me to my car, kind sir.” She put her harm out for me to take . . . which I did.

       I smiled. “Absolutely. Heck, it‟s the least I can do. I was just about ready to

leave too.” I motioned to the exit at the visitor's end of the stadium. “Shall we?”




Homecoming                                   4
         We walked by the visitors' stands, past a sleeping security guard and out of the

stadium. Turning right at the ticket booth, we headed down the hill towards the dark

parking lot.

         “Nice night,” I said. “You know, when the moon‟s bright like this, you can see

forever.” It was true. From the hill where the school was perched, you could see the

entire town of Pine Mountain (population 3000) several miles south and beyond that,

Silver Lake.

         She gazed out over the countryside, the expression on her face somewhat distant.

“Yeah, I remember. I miss it. I miss the view, the clean air, the friendly people. I've

missed everything since I moved to New York. I don't know what brought me back

tonight, but here I am. Guess I just couldn‟t miss all these incredible homecoming

festivities, huh?” She looked at me and laughed.

         As we continued down the narrow path to the parking lot she turned to me and

asked, “By the way, do you have a name? Mine's Elizabeth, but my friends just call me

Beth.”

         “Beth. That's a pretty name. Mind if I call you that?” I felt like a dork right after

I said it.

         She grinned an „awww, isn‟t that sweet‟ grin. “No, not at all.”

         “Okay, Beth. My name's Justin, but my friends call me J.T.”

         She looked puzzled. “Okay, I‟ll bite. What's the “T” stand for?”

         I sighed. “I was afraid you'd ask. Well, my parents decided to play a little joke

on me. Like I said, my first name is Justin, which is fine, but my middle name is Time.

Just-in-Time, get it? Pretty silly, huh?”




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        She shook her head with a straight face. “No! I think it's cute. Well, J.T., may I

have the honor of simply calling you Justin?”

        I shrugged my shoulders and smiled. “Yeah, sure. That‟s cool.”

        We reached the bottom of the hill and entered the parking lot. She slid her hand

into her skirt pocket, retrieved her car keys and headed for a black 1969 Jaguar XKE.

The car, shiny and free of damage, stood out like a wolf among sheep, not belonging with

the collection of beater pickups and cars that littered the lot.

        “Is this your car?” I asked in disbelief.

        “Why yes, this is my baby.” She stroked the fender as if petting a cat. “You

like?” she replied, her voice excited and full of pride.

        “Like it? Heck, I dream about this kind of ride. I love cars, especially fast or

powerful ones. I used to have a Dodge Charger, but ran it into a tree last winter. My dad

was so pissed. He won‟t let me get another one as long as I‟m living at home.”

        “That‟s a shame. Guy like you should have a nice car.” She removed my jacket,

folded it over her arm and handed it back to me. “Well Justin, thanks for the escort and

the loan. I'd forgotten just how warm and comfy those jackets really are.”

        She unlocked the driver's door and slid in to the driver‟s seat. “Try not to spill

any more sodas on unsuspecting women, okay?”

        I smiled and sheepishly, nodding my head. She closed the door and started the

car. Then it hit me. It was Friday night. I was alone in the parking lot with a hot 21-year

old woman. I had nothing to do and nowhere to go but home. If I’m going home, I

thought, at least I might get there in style . . . and who knows what else.

        I tapped on her window. She rolled it down, an inquisitive look on her face.




Homecoming                                     6
       Leaning over, I asked, “If you‟re heading into town, could I maybe get a lift?”

       A look of apprehension crossed her face. “Are you sure you should be asking for

rides with strange women?”

       “That all depends on how strange you are.” I could see she was uneasy with the

idea. “I won‟t bite, honest!”

       She choked back another giggle. Then, a Cheshire cat grin emerged on her face.

“Okay, get in, but ride at your own risk.”

       I ran to the other side of the car, threw my jacket on the back seat and hopped in.

She backed out of the space, peeled out of the lot and onto old Highway 22, which ran

down the hill and through the town of Pine Mountain.

       The car was incredible! The interior resembled some predator's lair. The seats

were warm and comfortable, covered in something soft that felt like black fur. The dash,

doors and roof were sheathed in black leather that shined in the moonlight like well cared

for leather should. A soft green glow caused the tach and speed gauges to resemble a pair

of menacing eyes. One thing that didn't belong was a white rabbit's foot that dangled

from the mirror.

       “What's the bunny foot for?” I asked.

       “Oh, that. I got it before graduation for good luck, but I think its defective; hasn't

done much for me. Maybe I should give it back to the rabbit,” she said, with a chuckle.

       After driving only a mile or so, she slowed to a stop in the middle of the deserted

road. She looked at me with a mischievous grin. “I get to drive this beauty all the time.

You, on the other hand, don't even have a car.” She shut off the engine and pulled the




Homecoming                                   7
keys from the ignition, dangling them in front of my face like a hypnotist's watch.

“Wanna drive?”

        I couldn't believe my ears. I swallowed and looked around. “You mean me?”

        Smiling, she nodded.

        I thought about it for a second, maybe less. A long, low “Yeeaaahhh!”

accompanied my rapidly nodding head.

        We hopped out, crossing in front of the car, exchanging places. I settled into the

driver‟s seat, slid it back to accommodate the foot and a half in height I had on her, and

savored my situation. I swallowed my nerved, took a deep breath, inserted the keys and

started the car. The engine roared with power. This was going to be fun!

        She grabbed a tape from the glove box, an actual eight-track tape, and inserted it

into the player. “Have at it, kid. She's all yours.”

        I looked at her. “Were like three years apart. Why you keep calling me „kid‟?”

        Still smiling, she bit her lip. “Sorry. Habit. Dunno why, but I call everyone

younger than me kid. So,” she raised a single eyebrow, “are we going to talk about my

vocabulary, or would you prefer to see what my baby can do?”

        I really needed to work on my moved with women. Luckily, my dad had made

sure I knew how to drive a stick. Eyes forward, I slammed the gearshift into first and hit

the gas. The tires squealed as the Jaguar roared down the highway, picking up speed like

a rock dropped from a skyscraper. I was worried that she might get angry about my peel-

out, but she only threw her head back against the seat and laughed. The music kicked in

as threw it into second. The song was hard, heavy and dark, the kind that does not belong

on an eight-track, urging you to go faster and faster . . . so I did.




Homecoming                                      8
       “So,” I asked, throwing the car into third as the speedometer passed fifty, “why'd

ya move all the way to New York?”

       “Oh, that.” she said, with a heavy sigh. She stared out the sunroof at the starry

sky, as if searching for her answer among the stars. I waited for the song to end, and was

about to take back the question, when she took a deep breath and finally spoke.

       “Shit happens. After graduation I got mixed up with some bad people; I mean

BAD people, the kind that aren‟t from around here. It all happened so fucking fast.

Saturday I was a good little farm girl whose future consisted of getting married and

having babies. By Sunday, everything had changed.”

       I had begun to wish that I hadn‟t asked. “You don't have to continue if you don‟t

want to.” I shifted into fourth as we hit sixty.

       “Naaa, it‟s alright. I just realized, I‟ve never just sat and talked to anyone about

it. Funny, huh? Besides, don‟t they say „confession is good for the soul‟? Lord knows I

could use some of that.” She paused, flicking the rabbit‟s foot with a finger, before

continuing. “They all seemed so cool, and Jedidiah . . .” she shook her head, “man . . . he

was such a goddamn badass. Oh, I was hooked, like the whole moth to flame thing, ya

know? But Jed wasn‟t just a bad ass, he was bad. I don‟t mean bad in a James Dean

character sort of way, I mean bad as in Chuckie fucking Manson bad.”

       I didn‟t know either of the guys. Maybe they weren‟t local, like from Carmillaton

or Graves‟ Landing. Not wanting to seem stupid, I kept my mouth shut.

       That Saturday night, I was lying on the lakeshore, staring up at the moon,” she

cocked her head and looked out the sunroof, “one a lot like tonight‟s, just laying there

trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. As I toyed with the notion of




Homecoming                                    9
getting married and having lots of babies, a shadow covered the moon, casting me into

darkness. It was so dark, but I could tell it was Jed. He said it was time for him to make

me his. I sat up, and it was like waking up. It was so quiet, dead still, and his head was

silhouetted in front of the moon, like one of those medieval paintings where all the saints

have glowing spheres around their heads.”

       I had no idea what she was talking about. The needle hit seventy-five.

       “It was so strange. At that moment I swear I could see the devil‟s horns in the

moonlight and I said I no longer wanted to be his girl.” She looked at me. “You ever

have a dream where you‟re flying, Justin?”

       That I did know. “Yeah, a few times,” I nodded.

       “Well, I never did see him move, but next thing I know I‟m flying . . . it was just

like in a dream, except my flight ended against that big oak they planted for the guy who

died in World War II. I kind‟a remember hitting it, but nothing after that. When I came-

to, the innocent little farm girl that had graduated the day before was dead and the girl

sitting beside you had taken her place.”

       The music faded out mid-song. A second later, I jumped when a „clunk‟

seemingly as loud as thunder heralded the return of the song.

       She laughed. “First time with an eight-track? Don‟t worry. They do that a few

times on each album. Eventually you don‟t even notice.”

       “How come you don‟t get a CD player? Must be a bitch to find music.”

       “Just wouldn‟t seem right in this car. Besides, I got money. I bought a set up to

burn music to those tapes. Cost me like five grand. Guy I paid to do it thought I was an

idiot. Maybe I am, but I like older shit. It just feels comfortable. Anyway, you know




Homecoming                                   10
how small towns are, especially ours. I couldn‟t deal with all the questions that follow,

so I moved away. In New York I was just one little ant in a very big ant hill.”

       I couldn't remember anyone ever being attacked in Pine Valley, let alone someone

who had gone to my school just before me. I didn‟t know what to say. She seemed okay

with it, but damn.

       “I told no one, not even my parents; just disappeared. Matter of fact, they

probably think I'm dead. Probably better that way. If I had gone home, my folks would

have never let me leave. If I had told anyone else, I would have never been allowed to

forget it. The whole town would have been freaked out. Besides, it was safer for

everyone if I just left. I couldn‟t have stayed if I wanted to; I just wasn‟t the same girl

come Sunday morning.”

       I didn‟t pretend to understand what she went through. “Well,” I said, trying to

lighten the mood and get my foot out of the crap I‟d stepped in. “Welcome home!”

       She grinned, rolled down the window, laid her head back for a few minutes and

savored the sensation of cold air, hot music and speed. “Well, kid. We‟ve known each

other for, what, fifteen, maybe twenty minutes now? You seem like a nice guy I can

trust. Hell, I've already handed over my car. Therefore, I trust you'll be a gentleman and

not peek while I change out of these wet clothes.”

       I did a mental double take. Had she said what I thought I heard? My mouth went

dry and my palms began to sweat. I tried not to peek, but instinct took over. The engine

purred as we glided past eighty.

       She closed her eyes, reclined the passenger seat, and proceeded to pull the cola

soaked cheerleader's sweater over her head, tossing it onto the rear seat. A new song




Homecoming                                    11
came over the stereo as she slid the pleated skirt down her seemingly legs and onto the

floor. Shoes, socks and undergarments quickly followed. The speedometer edged

toward ninety as I began to sweat in the cool air.

        I honestly tried real hard not to look, but it was like allowing someone to open

their presents on Christmas morning, then asking them not to look at what they‟ve got.

        Moonlight cascaded over her unclothed body, illuminating her ivory skin as she

cuddled in the fur of the seat, seemingly basking in her nakedness.

        She turned her head to me, opened one eye and sheepishly said, “I thought you

weren‟t gonna peek.”

        It had begun to feel quite warm in the car, although both windows were down. “I

was just, well . . . driving, and . . . uh . . . I thought I saw a . . . um . . . deer at the side of

the . . . uh, road” was all I could muster in my defense.

        “Don‟t worry, I won‟t tell anyone,” she giggled, retrieving a bundle of clothing

from the back seat and depositing it in my lap.

        She picked up the first item, a white lace camisole, and held it in the moonlight,

admiring its design, then delicately slipped it into place. Next, she chose a black leather

mini-skirt, slit up the side. With the grace of a dancer, she drew it over pointed toes and

up her legs until it rested cozily on her slender hips. Then she gingerly pulled long,

black, lacy, fingerless gloves over each hand and up each arm. A pair of dark stockings

with small flowers, lilies perhaps, embroidered on the material, followed.

        The speedometer inched toward ninety.

        From behind my seat, she retrieved a pair of short black suede boots and placed

them delicately over her stocking feet. From under her seat, she pulled a black leather




Homecoming                                        12
jacket, new judging by the scent, in which she wrapped herself. Topping off the

ensemble was a black felt fedora, sporting a lone blood red feather tucked in the band.

       Moving the seat back into place, she said, “Well, now that that is done, I guess we

should be getting you home.”

       Home? I had completely forgotten why I originally asked for a ride. Luckily, the

sheriff was at the game. I‟d blown straight through Pine Mountain and was well on the

other side of town nearing Silver Lake on the way to Graves‟ Landing. I looked at her,

curious about my fate.

       “That is unless you have something else in mind” she said, raising one eyebrow.

       I did. “Well, I‟m kind of enjoying things. I‟d hate for it to end so soon. How

about we go somewhere and talk?”

       She contemplated the idea for a few moments and then nodded. “Talk? Sure.

That sounds groovy.”

       “Great! I know just the place.” I grinned as the speedometer edged toward a

hundred on the thankfully long, straight highway.

       Beth swayed in her seat, moving to the music and softly humming. As the next

song began, I finally slowed down and turned onto an old dirt road. A bullet-ridden sign

used by kids for target practice, read “Silver Lake - 1 Mile.”

       She stopped moving and looked at me. “Justin. Are we going down to the lake?”

She sounded uneasy.

       I stopped the car and turned to her. “I was going to. But if that‟s not okay, we

can go somewhere else.”




Homecoming                                   13
       She looked down the road and back at me. “Just being silly. No, that‟s fine.” She

smiled and motioned forward, speaking with a bad French accent. “Drive on chauffeur.”

       I shrugged my shoulders, not knowing what had worried her, and continued down

the road. We passed some cows that were grazing contentedly in the moonlight and

pulled up to the lakeshore. I shut the engine off, but left the music playing. “Well, here

we are.”

       Silver Lake gained its name from the water's cloudy color, which came from silt

washed downstream from the mill. Since the mill closed down, the lake had lost some of

its silver color. In a few more years, they would have to change the name to Normal

Lake or something.

       “Sooo . . . ,” she began, purring like a cat, “you now know my little story, what‟s

yours?”

       I cracked my knuckles. “Not really much to tell. I‟m a senior, I play catcher on

the baseball team. Next year I‟ll be playing for the University of Southern California,

like I told ya earlier. I guess I‟m pretty good. My teammates say „nobody can come

home on J.T.‟. Even the Yankees called to say they wanted to draft me next summer, but

I told ‟em not to. I promised my folks that I‟d go to college. But when I make the pros,

and I will, I‟m going to buy them a big new house. Without them, I‟d probably be

looking forward to a career at Ernie's Garage or something.”

       I paused to watch a hawk swoop down and swipe a fish from the lake. It was a

trout, I think, which struggled for a brief moment before surrendering. “What else . . .” I

continued, “Oh, I collect comic books,” I continued. “I even have some of the first

issues. My grandpa left me his collection when he died. That‟s what got me started. I




Homecoming                                   14
also have a dog named Badger and an eleven-year-old sister who‟s a real pain in the neck

. . . but she‟s okay. Compared to the guys in New York City, I must be pretty boring,

huh?”

        “I think refreshing is more like it. If you remember, I‟m from here too and there‟s

still a little of the small town girl in me. People in The City are all so fake. I can‟t even

tell them apart anymore. They remind me of cattle. They hang around together, eat

together, sleep together and get slaughtered together. Life just passes them by. But you .

. . I like you, you're genuine. Just from being with you for the last half hour, I feel I

know you, that I can trust you like a friend. You can‟t trust anyone in New York, not

even yourself.”

        I laid my seat back and looked out the sunroof at the stars. There were so many

of them out there, it made me feel somewhat insignificant. Just like Beth had said, one

small ant in a very large anthill. As a kid, I sometimes tried to count them all, usually

giving up well before reaching a hundred. I had managed to count ten when Beth

reclined her seat, sighing as she too looked at the sky.

        “You know, for some strange reason I thought everything would be the same as

when I left, but it isn't. The thought of moving back here had even crossed my mind, but

I know I can't.”

        “How come? Things couldn't have changed that much.”

        “No, they haven‟t, but I have. I wouldn't know what to do with myself here. I‟d

probably get into more trouble than a fox in a chicken coup.”

        “Oh I dunno,” I countered, “I think we could use a little sophistication, someone

to shake things up.” Feeling bold, I put my hand on hers.




Homecoming                                    15
       She flinched, but didn‟t move. She actually stopped moving. Eyes closed, lips

slightly parted and without a breath she lay as still as her seat. It was eerie; motionless in

the moonlight she looked more like a black and white photo than a live human being.

       We sat like that for a long time, through most of what turned out to be the last

song on the tape and for a while after it ended and the player shut off. I didn‟t know what

to do or say, so we sat in the dark, silent moonlight.

       It was then that I realized what people meant by „deafening silence‟. Once the

eight-track went dark, the silence took on a life of its own, propagating with ever

increasing intensity and a seeming malevolence, until it was a hissing roar accompanied

by the hammering of my heartbeat. It was too much. I felt like it would smother me and

I wanted to run.

       I looked at her, planning my escape . . . then realized I was being an idiot. It

wasn‟t like she‟d pulled a gun on me or introduced her hulking gangster boyfriend. She

was just a former cheerleader, who on her tiptoes wouldn‟t come to my shoulder. I shook

my head silently laughing at myself, swallowed the lump in my throat, leaned over to her

and whispered. “Beth?”

       Her eyes flew open. I flinched, but somehow she remained motionless. Then she

started breathing . . . fast, as if she‟d been running. She gave my hand a light squeeze,

swallowed hard and whispered, “I think we should go now.”

       Damn, I thought, moved too soon. “What happened? Is everything okay?” She

closed her right hand into a tight fist as a faint wince darted across her face and a softly

whimpered “No” escaped her, full, open lips.




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       Maybe she just felt sick or something. Regardless, it didn‟t look like things

would be going any further. “Okay, I‟ll just . . . um . . . drive us back to my house so you

can drop me off.” I tried to pull my hand back, but she didn‟t let go, instead clutching my

hand even tighter in hers. She bit her lip, twisted in her seat and with a shriek doubled

over as if experiencing the worst stomach cramps ever. Her hand tightened on mine.

       “Shit!” I yelled. My hand screamed like it had been hit with a sledgehammer and

plunged into fire. “What's the matter? What happened? What‟d I do?” I gasped. She

seemed to be having a stroke or something and I was freaking out. I pleaded with God

for her not to die and for my throwing hand to stay in one piece.

       She punched the dashboard with her right hand, and threw herself into the seat

back . . . where once again, eyes closed, she lay still as stone.

       My hand was throbbing, but I didn‟t want to seem like a pussy and beg her to let

go.

       Then, mercifully, she relaxed her grip and let out a long, slow relaxing breath.

Turning to me, she opened her eyes. They were dark and glassy with a cold look, as if

someone else were staring out at me instead of the giggling girl I met at the football

game. She licked her upper lip and grinned, whispering in a cool, somehow seductive

tone, “I‟m good now,” as her thumb caressed the top of my hand.

       My hand was throbbing, but I didn‟t want to let on just how much. “So what just

happened?” I asked, with a little more of a groan than I wanted.

       She turned toward me and leaned in, running the back of her hand across my

cheek. My hand stopped hurting and a shiver ran up my back. “Don‟t worry about it. I

was just being a baby . . . woman stuff, you know?”




Homecoming                                    17
       It was hard to form coherent thoughts. Everything around us seemed to fade into

the darkness while the moon intensified on her, leaving Beth alone on a black stage.

“That, um, seemed like more than . . .”

       She cut me off with a finger on my lips. “Shhh. You talk too much.”

       I wanted to know what had happened. “But,” I continued.

       She leaned in closer, cupping her hand on my cheek and whispering “I said „you

talk too much‟, now be quiet.” With a nudge of her fingertips, I was falling toward her.

Her lips were on mine. Not just a peck on the lips, or a friendly smooch, but a kiss filled

with a hungry passion, as if savoring the last kiss her lips would ever taste.

       I‟d made out with several girls, even gone all the way with one, but this kiss was .

. . more. It washed over me with a rapturous thrill more sensual, more consuming and

more pleasurable than all of those experiences. I didn't know what to do. Instinct took

over. I pulled her closer and did my clumsy best to return all that she was giving me.

She responded, flowing over the center console into my seat, straddling my legs with her

knees, all without breaking the kiss.

       With deep, panting breaths, she moaned into my mouth before pulling away to

plant small, soft kisses on my cheek, along my jaw and down my neck. She stopped just

above my shoulder and began mixing small love bites with her kisses. With a soft,

savoring groan, she stopped teasing and focused all her efforts on a small spot just above

my left shoulder as her fingers dances in my hair. Heaven flowed from that spot and the

world began a weaving spin, like an off-balance merry-go-round. Something warm and

moist ran down my neck and onto my chest; it kind of tickled. I looked at the stars and

smiled in defiance, letting them know that I wasn‟t just some insignificant little ant. At




Homecoming                                   18
that moment, I was everything. A cool, soothing sensation embraced me, dragging me

into the dark silence. I was drowning in her embrace and didn‟t care. She offered bliss

and I consumed it all with eager abandon. Nothing else mattered anymore. In the

distance, I thought I heard her crying. Then . . . I was one with the cold, dark, empty

silence.



                               ********************************



          Beth grinned, lifting her lips from the boy‟s neck, licking away the blood,

savoring life‟s flavor. Then her now bright, amber-brown eyes caught the lifeless green

of her victim‟s gaze, their euphoria tainted by the fleeting hint of all consuming loss.

          She froze. The sea of joy in which she swam flashed to steam and escaped

through the open door that was the shredded remnants of her persistent conscience. She

screamed, horrified about what she had allowed herself to do. The tears were close

behind.

          She had come to see all the nameless, self-absorbed assholes in The City as

nothing more than cattle. But this was different. This was a mistake. Justin had a name.

He was just a nice kid who collected comic books and dreamed of playing baseball.

Years earlier, these occurrences had stopped bothering her. She had learned to stop

caring about everyone because anyone could end up on her plate. But this was different.

Looking at him was like looking at her first. The sorrow and regret dripped from the

shreds of her humanity like dew on rose petals. It hurt, but the pain offered a measure of




Homecoming                                     19
comfort: a least a fragment of the innocent, small town girl endured . . . cowering, scared

and alone in the cold, dark, empty silence within her.

        She hated this place and wanted to go. Still sobbing, she lifted Justin from the car

with unnatural ease and bore him to a short, stone monument amidst a bed of lilies beside

a sprawling oak at the water's edge. The monument‟s tarnished plaque commemorated

the town‟s war dead, a young man also named Justin who perished on a nameless field in

a meaningless battle.

        She looked down at him and whispered, “I‟m so sorry this had to happen, Justin.

You were sweet. Maybe God will let you play ball on his team.”

        Kneeling to kiss his now cool forehead, she placed the white rabbit's foot in his

palm. “Take this. I hope it brings you more luck than it brought me.”

        She rose and ran back to the car. Jumping into the driver's seat, she closed her

eyes and begged the tears to stop. When they finally obeyed, she started the car and sped

down the dirt road until she reached the old highway.

        A final tear plunged down her cheek as she looked over her shoulder and noticed

the letterman's jacket lying on the back seat. “Rest in peace, kid. I only wish I could join

you.”

        She turned onto the highway and began the long, silent drive home.




Homecoming                                   20

								
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