Friday, August 24, 2007

Chapter 2: An Odd Greeting, Part III

A man and woman in their mid-thirties strode by, the husband carrying a girl about Alexis' age. Vernon waved.

"Hey, how you doing? My name's Vern Hamilton. My wife and I just moved in." He turned and waved at the porch. "What's your daughter's name? We've got a little girl about her age."

The man stopped, but kept glancing about as if looking for some escape. His wife answered. "I'm Marilyn Thompson. This is Nick and our daughter Melinda."

"Pleased to meet you," Vern said.

"Likewise," Nick mumbled.

"So, how long have your folks lived here?"

Marilyn smiled. "Actually, Nick was born here. I moved here after we married seven years ago. Of course, his first wife and son were gone by then..." Nick's elbow in her ribs sent her stumbling sideways. "What? Oh. Right." She cleared her throat. "Sorry about that. I just get going and can't stop sometimes." She laughed. "Got to watch that. Don't want to lose track around here..."

Her husband spoke quickly, cutting her off. "I think we've taken enough of Mr. Hamilton's time, dear, and we need to get Melinda home."

"You're certainly not bothering me." Vern chuckled and turned to wave at his car and the lift gate still open in the back. "I've still got to unpack. It's not like I'm all that eager to get back to work."

When he turned back, the couple had already moved on.

He waved at another pair, a black couple walking with a sullen teenage girl in tow. The woman waved back, and her husband nodded in a friendly fashion, but neither halted or even slowed.

An elderly woman in a high-necked blue dress hobbled by. Vernon stepped up beside her and offered his arm.

"Why thank you, young man." She pat the white bun on the back of her head. "It's so nice to see someone with a few manners."

"Where's your husband, ma'am? Don't tell me a young thing like yourself isn't attached."

"Oh, you are a naughty one, aren't you?" She tittered. "Please, call me Pat."

"Alright, just so long as you call me Vern."

"It's a deal, Vern. And to answer your question, my Harold went into the night nearly twenty years ago. These days, I just sit at home and wait for my turn. Probably won't be long now."

"I doubt that." Did she say he went into the night? What kind of expression is that? "Isn't there anyone else around here who could help you?"

"I hate to be a bother. Besides, you know how it is. Most of them have their own families. Would do them any good to see me home and get stuck out here after dark themselves, now would it?"

"That's kind of heartless. It’s not like they could get lost out here, even in the dark. The town ain't that big."

"What kind of nonsense are you spouting?" Pat's head twisted sharply up at him. She adjusted her glasses and squinted. "Oh, that's right. You're new here, aren't you?"

Vernon nodded. "Just got here a little while ago. But what was all that about?"

"Oh, nothing. Just the foolish ramblings of an old woman. I'll probably be drooling on myself next." She stopped in front of a farm house with faded blue paint. "Well, this is my stop. Thank you for the help." She clasped his forearm. "You be careful and hurry on home, young man. I hope I get to see you again." And with that, she scurried into her house. Lights shone in the windows before she shut the door.

Shaking his head, Vernon walked back to his house. He tried to engage the few people he passed in conversation. Those who didn't ignore him outright pointed at the sky and hurried on past. When he reached the mouth of his driveway, he turned. Four more people passed without even glancing his way. That's it. I'm through being polite. When a middle-aged man in a suit and fedora walked by, Vernon snagged his arm and spun him around.

"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded. "Release me at once. Can't you see how late it is?"

"Look, man, I'm sorry to be rude, but we just moved in and I can't hardly even get anyone to talk to me. I had heard this was a friendly little place, but so far, they're acting like we've got the plague or something. The ones I can get to say anything are crazy or something. I just walked an old woman to her house, and I swear, she's going senile or something. From the way she talked, you'd think it was my last night on Earth."

"You walked Ms. Erickson home?" His expression softened, and he smoothed his graying mustache with a thumb and forefinger. "That was kind of you. She doesn't have anyone to look after her anymore." He paused. "You say you just moved in? That'd make you the new family – the Hamiltons, wasn't it?"

"Yeah." He folded his arms. "Who are you?"

"My name is Travis Ware. I'm sort of the unofficial mayor around here."

He extended a hand. Vernon took it and gave it a quick shake. "Pleased to meet you. Would you like to come meet the family? Cheryl's kind of tired, but I'm sure she'd love to at least say hi, and Alexis always loves meeting new people. Just don't be surprised if she asks to spend the night with you. She's never met a stranger, and she might treat you like a long-lost grandfather or something."

"Really, Mr. Hamilton, I must be going..."

"Oh, come on. It's a Sunday, for crying out loud. I know these small towns like to roll up the streets at sunset, but this is ridiculous. What's going on around here? It's like everyone can't wait to get inside."

"Things in Jennings Grove are...complicated, Mr. Hamilton. I'd be more than happy to speak with you and meet your family in the morning, but right now, I really must get home. I suggest you do the same. It's almost dark, you know." He put a special emphasis on the last. Travis pulled free of his grip and started to leave, then turned back. "Your children don't have any outdoor pets, do they?"

"Huh?" He blinked in surprise. "No. Alexis has been asking for a dog, but we haven't had a chance to get one yet."

"Good." Travis nodded. Vernon frowned and watched him disappear into the deepening murk.
Part I of Chapter 3 coming Monday!

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