Sunday, April 5, 2009

On the Town

It had been quite some time since Beth had actually been into town. She would go once a week or so with her father for groceries, or to run to the Post Office to pick up larger packages.

But she’d just been to school and back since staying with the Jacobs.

She should have known they were up to something when they asked if she wanted to go along to run errands after dropping Jack at the hospital for his tests.

So there she sat, in the waiting room, a plastic bracelet on one wrist, Jack’s mother’s hand on the the other, keeping the girl from running screaming from the doctors.

“Beth, dear, we just want to make sure you didn’t whack your head as badly as Jack did. It was quite a fall.”

The X-ray machine didn’t explode, though the film came out with odd blotches of exposure. The technicians took three different sets, with slightly different patterns in each one. Still, they could see well enough that she’d suffered no fractures or breaks, and her head was in the right number of pieces.

Jack’s also came out clear — nothing broken, but, as the doctor put it “a hell of a goose egg.”

“You’re both very lucky,” the doctor said. “But lets not go tempting fate by doing anything like this again any time soon, okay?”

* * * * *

Since the tests had taken the majority of the morning, Jack’s mother took them out to lunch — nothing fancy, just burgers at the local mom and pop restaurant.

“Well, Margaret, here’s a pleasant surprise,” said the hostess, giving the woman a hug. “Jack, haven’t seen you in an age, how are you, my boy?”

“Been better,” he said. “Bumped my head. Had to go get it looked at.”

“Dear, me,” the older woman said. “How did that happen?”

“Playing catch,” said Beth.

“Now, Margaret, you haven’t been hiding this one away from me all these years, have you?”

Jack’s mother laughed. “No, this is our neighbor’s daughter, Beth. Her father is out of town, so we’ve sort of adopted her while he’s gone.”

“A pleasure, young lady,” gushed the hostess, laying a kindly hand on the girl’s shoulder. ”I don’t think I have ever seen such beautiful green eyes or such a pretty smile. Why, this whole place just lights up with it. What can I get you all to drink?”

* * * * *

“When did you start drinking hot chocolate?” Jack’s mother asked him.

“Well.. I like a cup every now and then.”

“Since when?”

“I think since I made him drink mine over at my house,” said Beth, sucking the whipped cream off her spoon.

“Really, now? He wouldn’t touch the stuff when I made it. Jack, I’m crushed.”

“Sorry, Mom. Tastes change. In second grade, I liked brunettes. Now, I think I prefer blondes.”

“Well, you are a gentleman, from what I hear.”

Jack stared. “I don’t get it.”

From the booth next to theirs, one of the patrons waved for the hostess. “Hey, can you turn it up? I was hoping to see something on the news about this.”

The hostess reached up and turned up the volume on the TV, which was showing the local news affiliate. The lettering read “NEXT UP: STRANGE LIGHT REPORTED ALONG ROUTE 3.” The TV cut to a commercial.

“Say, Margaret, you live out that direction, did you see anything?”

Jack’s mother feigned ignorance.

“Locals are buzzing about a light show they say ‘lit up the sky’ early last night in the woods that run along a stretch of Local Route 3,” said a sharply dressed female reporter.

The clip cut to several locals — Jack recognized one of them as a neighbor who lived way down the other side of the road, about a half mile away from them.

“Yeah, I looked up, and there it was, just as clear and bright as s beam of sunshine, only, the sun wasn’t even up, and it just shone straight up and down, not all slant-ways….”

Jack gaped up at the TV — somebody along the road had caught the ‘light show’ on a grainy, shaky camera.

“I told you we were close!” Beth hissed. “Look, you can see my house there along the side of the frame.”

“I don’t… I don’t remember that,” Jack said.

“That’s right. You don’t remember it because neither of you were there,” Jack’s mother said, low enough that the people in the booth next to theirs wouldn’t be able to hear over the TV.

Jack was staring at Beth, who had suddenly devoted all her attention to her french fries.

“That was you. Your—” he reached out to run a lock of her hair through his fingers, and she slapped his hand away. “How did it—”

“Say, you live out that way,” said the patron, leaning up and over the top of the booth. “You kids see anything funny last night?”

“Not a thing,” said Beth. “We were busy doing homework. Wish we had, though. Not nearly enough excitement out where we live.”

Jack nearly choked on his hot chocolate.

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