Monday, October 8, 2007

Chapter 5: Hard at Work, Part V

Vernon walked slowly to the cash register, leaning back to keep the load from falling to the floor. Even so, he had to stop several times and shrug lights and batteries back into place. He dropped everything on the counter with a sound like marbles spilling across the floor. Several packages of batteries fell off. Vernon squatted to retrieve them while the guy behind the counter started ringing the items up and placing them in a paper bag on the counter. His apron named him Gary, a completely bald man who could be called young only compared to Theron. He looked like a straighter, less wrinkled version of the older man. He must be the “& Son.”

“You planning some kind of campout, mister?” Gary asked. He glanced at Vernon between items, his hands never pausing on the register keys.

“Not really.” As the silence drew out, he shrugged and added, “They’re for the family.”

“Ah,” Gary replied. “Kids scared of the dark?”

“Yes! That’s it right there. It’s an old house, and it’s hard to keep lights on all the time. Figured this would help keep them quiet and go to sleep.”

“Sounds like a good idea.” He smiled. “And if nothing else, you’ve got enough here to see you through the end of the world.”

Vernon offered a thin smile in return and fell silent. Gary made his last keystroke and punched a large button at the bottom. The total flashed up on a small screen facing Vernon: $237.52. He gulped and drew the cash from his pocket, wincing as he peeled each twenty off the roll. He handed twelve bills to the clerk and looked at the remaining money. At least two-thirds of it still remained. How much did they give me? He stuffed the money back in his pocket along with his change and grabbed the paper bag. The weight felt reassuring.

The sun had sunk noticeably toward the horizon by the time he reached his car. He opened the passenger door and dropped the sack on the floor. He stood there for several minutes, gazing northward with a growing sense of unease tying his stomach in knots. Even armed as he was, he felt ill prepared for the coming night. What if it’s not enough? he thought and glanced at the bag. What if it takes Ray, too? He slunk around the car and dropped himself into the driver’s seat. He paid just enough attention to the highway to keep from driving off the road or into other cars, missing FM 197. He only realized his error when he crossed the Red River into Oklahoma. He had to make two U-turns before he snapped himself out of his funk and found the right road. He drove slowly down the winding farm road. No matter how he tried to draw it out, however, he eventually came to County Road 36850 and turned right.

Springs in the Camry’s suspension bounced and squeaked down the gravel road and onto the driveway. Vernon stared at the white house, cringing back into his seat as it grew larger in his vision. When he looked back at the driveway, he found a large blue pickup parked directly in front of him, the last in a long line of vehicles. Yelling, Vernon twisted the wheel, stomped on the brake pedal and drove off into the yard. He sat there for several minutes, breathing heavily with his head on the steering wheel. His right hand shoved the transmission lever into park and rose, shaking, to turn the ignition off and yank the key out.

Who are all these people? What are they doing here? He climbed out of the car and stalked through the grass. Lights shone in every window he could see. I’ve got enough problems without everyone in the universe showing up tonight. You’d think they would understand that better than anyone. He could feel a scowl drawing his brow down and bowing his mouth, but didn’t bother trying to smooth his features. If they were going to be rude enough to show up unannounced, they deserved whatever they got. He stomped up the stairs and hauled the door open.

“Alright, this is…”

The words died in his throat, swallowed in a roar of greeting from dozens of people packed in the house. A banner stretched across the far wall blazing the message “Welcome home!” Red, green and blue balloons squeaked as they floated and overhead, enough of them that he couldn’t see the ceiling. Travis Ware stood smiling at the front of the throng. He didn’t see the babysitter anywhere. She’s probably in the back room or something. He looked around. All the people standing around made it difficult to tell much about the room, but he thought it looked a little too neat. Where’d all the boxes go?

“I said it once this morning, but please allow me to say it again: Welcome to Jennings Grove, Mr. Hamilton,” Ware said, taking a step forward arms outspread.

“Yeah, thanks.” Vernon sidestepped the mayor and broke left toward his room. The line of people bent without giving way. “Excuse me, please.” They muttered and looked at each other, but no one moved. He waved a hand at the bedroom. “Do you mind?” The murmuring increased.

Ware stepped forward, placed a hand on his elbow and leaned over to speak softly in his ear. “Please, Mr. Hamilton – Vern – there’s no need to be rude. These people have put a great deal of time and effort into this. Let them have their celebration; Heaven knows they have little enough opportunity.”


Part VI coming Friday!

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At October 8, 2007 10:32 AM , Blogger Bret Jordan said...

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At October 8, 2007 11:37 AM , Blogger Jeff Parish said...

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