Chapter 6– Lucky Charms
I jumped up. I was late for work– 8:32 with a dot.
First day back to work and draggin’ ass. Coffee bit my nostrils, and a heat wave prediction from Chet Sands, Channel Three’s ace weatherman, bombarded my ear drums. Sid was up and hadn’t woke me.
“Shit, I’m late,” I said, stumbling out of the bedroom shoving my right leg in my pants. I head butted Sid and rocked back on my heals, falling smack against the wall.
“Whoa,” he said. “You sure you’re up to going back?”
“I’m fine. I gotta to go to work,” I said, ticking off each reason on my fingers. “I have $23.54 in my checking account. I have to file the insurance, and I have to do it today at lunch. I have to check out the policy on my car. And I have to know how much they’ll pay on the house.” I caught my breath and shoved my other leg into my pants. “– but it’ll be a while before the insurance pays off– if they do– if I don’t end up in jail for arson. No use putting this off. I need to get it started. Sucks having no car– or house.” Amazing. Half way articulate– and with no caffeine.
“I’m gonna walk down to Johnson’s insurance at lunch–” I added, “although I’m sure they’ll cancel my policy after this.”
“Listen, you need money. Here,” Sid said, reaching for his billfold and pulling out a couple of twenties.
I shook my head, ducking into the bathroom.
“I wasn’t asking for money,” I said, calling out as I shut the door.
“I know you weren’t, but you need to eat,” he said, pressing his mouth against the door talking over me while I piss. “Do me a favor, eat something first before you go in. You’re already late. I’ll call work.”
“I need coffee,” I said, flushing the toilet. “But I’m not a breakfast person.”
In the vanity mirror, I seem normal. My black eyes had vanished; I looked rough but not bad. I washed my hands then brushed my teeth with the extra Scooby-Do toothbrush Sid gave me. Stepping out of the bathroom stretching, my traitorous stomach growled ‘feed me,’ reverberating into the kitchen. Funny, I could have sworn my toe nail came off when I stubbed it the other day. I must have been mistaken.
“You need more than coffee,” Sid said, rummaging through assorted cereal boxes in the cupboard. He pulled them out, jostling each one next to his ear like a kid rattling his piggy bank. “Maybe I should throw some of these away. Not enough for a bowl full in any of ’em. You like Captain Crunch?”
“That’s good,” I said. I was hungry. “Actually, Captain Crunch is my favorite.”
I searched the inside of the fridge, blurry eyed. I slid the milk from the shelf over to the counter while Sid dug out a spoon and bowl from the dishwasher. Plopping down on the leather barstool, I poured a heaping bowl full with skim milk. Whole was better, but I was ravenous by then; I’d gobble cereal dry. My stomach yowled again, welcoming the first bite.
“Sounds angry, I think it wants eggs and bacon,” he said, plunging his hand deep into a box of Lucky Charms. “Mmm, green clovers!”
“What, no toy surprise inside?” I laughed– er, giggled. “This cereal’s fine. Eggs and bacon another day,” I said.
“Bacon and eggs,” I whisper, half to myself. Mmm. One of the olfactory memory meals that I loved. “That does sound good– and something I could make. What if we go shopping after I get out of work, and I’ll make breakfast for dinner tonight?”
“Does sounds good,” he said, throwing back bland oat cereal into the box and casting in again. I munched and drank my coffee while Sid called the flower shop for me. Who was he, my friggin’ secretary? His neck cupped the phone like my mom’s used to– talking all proper and polite. It was Mr. Keller on the other end. Had to be. If he was talking to Alan, his arms would wave around his head instead of tight and acting all constipated. All the while he sorted out the marshmallow charms and popped them into his mouth like accounts.
That’s when he turned his back to me, and I noticed his shoulder muscles twitch rhythmically. Little ticking spasms. His navy ‘I Love NY’ tank top stretched taunt across the spot, betraying movement underneath. I held my breath. No, that didn’t make me want him at all–
He hung up.
“Everything’s cool,” he said.
–and that quick smile he slipped me when he clicked down the receiver, nope, that didn’t warm my heart.
“Take your time finishing breakfast,” he added.
I choked back, “Thanks, Sid.”
We pulled up in front of the greenhouse at the same time as Alan. He waved as Sid stretched over the seat.
“I’ll pick you up at five. If you decide to knock off early today, just call. You know my cell phone number. I’ll be in and out all day.”
In and Out? Shit. My hand pulled on the door handle and missed.
He hesitated, leaning further over the console. For a moment there, I thought, hey, he was gonna kiss me in broad fucking daylight in front of work, Alan, and the world. Instead, his hand brushed my chin, and he Aksaray Escort smiled, “Bye.”
I stumbled out of his car and crossed the street with the memory of In and Out and his fingers lingering on my chin, and how only days ago I was thinking of one-hundred and one reasons why I shouldn’t be gay, and now I’m thinking of one-hundred and three reasons why I should be. Alan stood in the front room, watching our parting scene through the showroom window. I limped up the stairs, avoiding Alan’s stare. He closed one eye, summing up my perplexed, nervous gate.
“Well, Wes I have to admit… I was wrong about you.” I gave Alan a puzzled look. “I told Sid not to waste his time, pining away for you. He kept telling me you’d come around. I admit; I was wrong. So, um, I guess I can’t refer to you as the 24-year-old vestal virgin anymore?”
“That’s the most bass ackward complement I ever heard. Let me get this right– you’ve hated me all these years, because I didn’t sleep with Sid.”
“Yeah, that’s about right.”
I could not bring myself to side with his semi-civil countenance– not even for Sid– when I knew inside Alan was still a slithering, womanizing snake. I wanted to indulge in a few choice words, but I glimpsed Mr. Keller standing in the backroom taking in our conversation.
“Now, you look more like yourself. You were a sight at the hospital,” Mr. Keller spoke up; I loved the guy. He came to see me. Shucks. “Lucky you’re alive– I saw what was left of your car.”
“Thanks for visiting me,” I said, explaining my memory lapse was too long a story to tell Mr. K this morning.
“I’m happy you’re back,” he gave me a warm suffocating hug. “Sorry about everything– the fire, your house. Here’s some extra cash,” he whispered, slipping it into my hand. “What ever you need– just ask. You’re like a son to me, you know. Sid told me you were still a bit under the weather. If you feel like punching out early today, it’s okay– I won’t look at your time card.”
“I’ll see how the day goes.”
He winked. “Sid comes from a great family, and I’m glad to see something good come out of all the bad that’s come your way. You’ve had too much happen over the last few years.” I looked down quickly, my eyes watering. “Well, I’ve got to get to the scene of your accident– check on those sick roses on River Road. I’ll be back as soon as I’m through.”
“You talked to Mrs. Lancaster then?” I said, looking over at Alan.
“Yes, she sends her best to you, by the way– says her grandson knows ya.”
“Well, yeah, he’s in our band now.”
Alan laughed and walked down the back steps to the greenhouse. Ass hole. Mr. K waved, and I turned around. The door chimed twice. Keller leaves, customer enters. A day in the life at the flower shop.
Easy customer. Took a pre-made bud vase, paid and left. Then I prepared myself for the design room.
The last time I was gone a week, it took three days to organize the place again. Upside of being gone those days was I missed the Yancey wedding that Saturday. I hated working weddings. Especially, snooty-bitch-my-shit-don’t-stink weddings. Weddings are a pain in the ass. When the brides to be come in to place their orders, I always wonder, how long before the divorce? I’d started a pool once, set odds; Alan even got in on the action. But Mr. K made us to stop.
Not very professional placing bets on newlywed longevity.
I shook my head. Stems in descending degrees of decay, from petrified to mush, covered the counters. Over five rolls of floral tape half unwound, were puckering from water saturation. No one bothered to put the right size of floral wire in the right slots– When will they learn never to stick number three wire into the nine hole. And the ribbon– a bolt of yellow pot tie muddied and trampled on the floor and another bolt of white picot ribbon half unraveled on a work bench sopped in water. Trying to put the mess away, I slipped on crumbled Oasis near the bathroom door, catching my balance and squishing my hand in a jelly donut.
I asked Mr. K about the Lancaster’s when he got back. He didn’t have much to say– at first. He raved on and on about the garden. Thinking back, it was spectacular. He said Mrs. Lancaster wasn’t home, but the infamous siren, Glenda was. He also met, Les, our new band member. What ever was wrong with the roses, wasn’t anymore; they were perfectly healthy. Then, I remembered the leaves I took. Well, they were ‘Gone with the Car.’ I didn’t understand how plants in that wasted a condition could recover so quickly.
“She’s more interested in the missing card,” he said. “She wondered if you would give it back.” Considering her grandson had witnessed its reappearance, I guessed I had to. I told Keller I’d bring it in tomorrow.
“That’s fine,” he said. “They’re a nice family. Very caring. Nice of them to come visit you in the hospital.” Crap. My hospital room must have had revolving doors. “An interesting young man, that Les. Reminds me a lot of you. He asked how you were today– said was he was Aksaray Escort Bayan the one that found you alongside the road and called the ambulance. He’s very concerned about you.”
Why would this Les lie about calling the ambulance? Old MacDonald called. I didn’t understand.
“And Mr. Lancaster said he was sorry to hear about your house.”
I bet he is, I thought.
I looked at the clock. Almost lunch time– I wasn’t in any hurry to visit Johnson’s Insurance Agency, so I left a few minutes late.
——————————— The insurance company was in a renovated Victorian home. The ginger breading both inside and out advertised a quaint small town atmosphere– a distinction many of the homes converted to businesses promoted in Andrews. I stepped into the waiting room where it looked like a time machine belched– the Art Deco furniture out of place.
Ellen, Mr. Johnson’s ample partner and my mom’s best friend, stood waiting for me, and we walked back to her office together.
“I’d been worried about you,” she said. “How are you doing, I mean, really doing? Be honest.”
I could never lie to her– I still call her my ‘other mother,’ an endearing name my mom christened her with long ago. I took a seat in a wing back chair facing her desk.
“I’ve been worse,” I said, smiling best I could. “Guess you’ll need my policy number– its 98692A-37895.”
“And the policy number on the house?” She asked.
“Well, yes that’s the other reason why I came down here.”
“Yes, honey. You forget– I know all, see all. Small town. Um, and the adjuster’s already been out to your home.”
“What about my car?”
“A total, pay off will be blue book value.”
“It depends. I’ll need a change of address done. Or I can have it sent here and call you. Now, as for your home owner’s, we were looking over your policy, and you didn’t have contents. The house is insured for replacement value. However, the cause of the fire may hold up matters.” She looked up at me over her glasses. “I’m sorry, Wes. I’ll do my best to help speed this all as much as I can.”
“Is it because it’s arson?”
“Yes. Frankly speaking, I know you had nothin’ to do with it honey, but I’m not the one that issues the check.” I nodded. Well, that was no surprise.
“I’ll pick up the check here. Call me at Keller’s or on my cell when it comes in.” We both stood up at the same time, and Ellen gave my hand a squeeze. She sniffed. Hell, she was crying.
“This is too much a reminder of the fire before. I’ve felt sick to my stomach since this all happened. Brings back the pain of losing your family in that horrible fire.” Shit, now she had me sniffling.
We talked. Really talked.
I was late getting back from lunch.
I walked back from the insurance agency feeling like forgetting. My head throbbed from crying. Talking to Ellen about my family’s death was healthy. The first six months or so I tried pretending it never happened– like I could call them up, and they’d be there, and say, “Hello, Mom?” But I couldn’t keep that up long. Then, I tried to keep myself busy with work and the band– not think of what happened. I can’t do that anymore. The last couple of weeks it was hard to not dwell on all the shit that gone bad in my life over the last few years or what my life was like before my family died. Ellen made it impossible for me to ignore.
I stuck it out the whole day at work. Uneventful, except for a pop-in visit from Lynn with more clothes just before closing. She said it gave her an excuse to come down and visit Alan. She left me to a customer and ducked outside to see Alan off.
Sid and Alan were shooting the shit when I came out the door. Sid slid over and opened the door for me.
We drove off with Lynn yelling, “Don’t tire him out too much.”
On the way home, I told Sid about Mr. K’s experiences with the Lancaster clan.
“I don’t think this is all just a series of coincidences. This is all linked together some how,” he said as he parked the car.
“Yeah, but how?”
“Not sure. I did some investigating today. Some intriguing reading about Emma Lancaster,” he said. We both walked up the steps together. “I hope you don’t mind, but I picked up a temporary change of address card for you at the post office today. You can fill it out, and I’ll take it back for you tomorrow while you’re at work.” We pulled into the driveway and walked up the steps. I looked at the mail box.
Change of address? He opened the door for me.
“And Smith left a message on our machine and dropped this off for you,” he said, shutting the door.
Our machine? Sid handed me an envelope and tapped the button on the machine until he got to Smith’s voice, hesitant and comical:
Yeah, Wes? I hate these fucking machines. You’re not home, damn. Any how, why I called… Umm, the guys took up a collection. We figured there’s stuff– yeah, some stuff you might need– you know. I’ll drop it by and put it in the Escort Aksaray mail box if no one’s home. Oh yeah and John says, ‘don’t forget to buy some leather pants.’ And wait, one other thing. We got a gig at the Adam’s Den for Friday and Saturday night. We should get together and practice again if you’re feeling like it. And the guys said, no pressure. Call one of us. If you can’t play both nights, that’s ok. We’ll see ya there. Oh and hey, Sid– take care of him.
“Leather pants?” Sid wondered aloud. “Well, you do look hot in them.”
I took a chance and leaned into him, grazing his mouth with my lips and watching his eyes. He didn’t pull back. This time I opened my mouth– cinnamon Life Savers, coffee and the world trickling through rapid beats of my heart. His tongue lightly brushed mine then he stepped back afterward and took a deep breath. That wasn’t the reaction I was hoping for.
“What happened today?” he asked. Shit, he knew me too well. I sat down heavily on the barstool.
“They’ll pay off on my car, but it looks like there’ll be a hold up on the house because of the arson investigation.”
“You know that’s not what I meant.” He sat down in the stool next to me. “I saw it the moment I picked you up. So, you talked to Ellen, didn’t you.” I nodded. “Good. You need to talk to someone.”
“Even if it’s not you? Is this what this is about?”
“Well, yeah. It has to do with trust. Avoiding. Shit, I want you to talk to me.” I knew he was right. I wasn’t being fair.
He reached into his pocket and handed me his keys. “Take my car and go to the mall or something. Get bacon and eggs,” he smiled. “Buy the leather pants. Here’s the money from the band.” He pulled an envelope out of his pocket and put it in my shaking hands.
“I don’t want to drive,” I admitted. Sid nodded and took the keys from me.
“Let’s go then,” he said.
I walked the mall, thinking about what Sid said. We split up and decided to meet up at the car. He said he needed to be alone and think. I know he really wanted me to do the thinking. I stopped in Walgreens and bought a razor and shampoo. Went to The Gap and bought the leather pants and some shirts. I bought real underwear– boxers.
I did think. By the time I started for the back mall parking lot to Sid’s car, I had a mental list of all I’d say to him. What I needed to say, not just for Sid but for myself.
Sid left the doors unlocked. I opened the passenger side and stooped in, throwing my bags up, over and into the back seat when I heard someone behind me.
“Excuse me, do you know the shortest way to get to Washington Avenue from here?” I straightened up and turned to face the man who asked. Much taller than me, dark hair and eyes, squinting– flecks of the setting sun pooling in them. And he stepped in close to me, too close.
I opened my mouth to answer when he drove the knife into my stomach– deadened like Novocain. I didn’t understand what had just happened until I looked down seeing the glint of the blade. And even then, I didn’t comprehend. No malice, no emotion on his face. I shuddered, still numb. Then the pain washed through me as he pulled up and turned the blade.
Smell of iron and bile. Feel of acid burning, shrill and violent.
I fell backward on to the stark white bucket seat. Strength leaving.
My vision, bright sparking lights between dead spots. Blood, my blood warming my old t-shirt and skin. Life silently spilling down to the floorboard. The pain became unbearable when he drew out the knife– a cutting mirage. My body’s memory twisting it again and again.
I choked back a sob, “Why?”
I saw his face, stubble and lines, a flash of pity– face close to mine. Searching into my eyes– answering. If I knew the answer, I would say.
Then, his bloodied hand cradled the back of my head and gently rested it upon the seat’s cushion. I thought, this is what it’s like to die. I shivered. Cold and pain.
Then he left me there alone, to look at the crack in the wind-shield and the red of the setting sun. I wondered why. I wondered how long.
Somewhere I heard footsteps and wondered if he’d returned. The driver’s door opened, and I heard the ringing of keys dropping on pavement. It was Sid. I heard him far off– calling 911 and swearing as he lost the signal. His face came close, and his hands lifted my shirt. We both saw the wound together– gaping and ugly. I felt his tears wet and warm against my cheek. I told him not to cry.
He left me. Gone. Then he was on the other side of me, lifting my legs into the car. He shut the door. He climbed into the driver’s side, shifting into the front seat gently putting my head into his lap. And he fumbled with the keys. My hand stopped him. No time. I heard him say ‘hospital,’ and the car moved. I heard Sid say, ‘Don’t die. Hold on. Don’t die, I haven’t even told you I love you yet.’
I felt a tear trickle into my ear. It was mine. I didn’t know I had anything left inside me to bleed.
As the car moved, space changes. I felt euphoric. Like I was invincible. I’d live forever. I moved my hand up, and Sid grasped it, clenching it tight. My heart clenched with it, just as tight. This wasn’t the end. I knew. A clarity filtered over me. I saw inside myself, inside Sid.