Peter gets caught up in the drama at a bowling alley
Peter was tall for 14, and, back in middle school, he had been easy to spot in the hallway. His boyish brown hair would swish back and forth as he waded through a sea of students. He was happy to be out of middle school, and smiled every time he thought about high school. High school, a place where people had cars, didn't need lockers, and, above all else, a place that had a baseball team. But all of that would have to wait. It was a warm summer day and, instead of practicing his fastball, Peter was stuck behind a cash register at a bowling alley. He couldn't have thought of a more boring place to spend such a nice day.
The high pitched mechanical ring of a nearby pinball machine snapped Peter out of his daily daydream. Actually, it was less of a daydream than a game he had started to play every day. The game started about a week ago when Mr. Leonard started arriving at ten to order his size ten and a half shoes. After two, of what can only be described as mediocre games, he would grab a beer and enter the dungeon in the back that Peter's dad proudly called an office. Every day his dad would greet Mr. Leonard with a smile and every day once the doors were closed his smile would evaporate. Peter had made a game out of the ordeal, and would peer from behind the cash register and try to find out what they were saying by the expressions on their face. But the facial expressions were always the same. Peter's dad always seemed to be upset, while Mr. Leonard always seemed to be shrugging as if he were a ref trying to explain a botched call. It was strange; his dad's long friend and boss Mr. Leonard had never bowled here before.
A soft female voice cut through his thoughts and Peter's head snapped around to the customer. She was a few year older than him, maybe 17 or 18, with long blonde curly hair and the kind of girlish smile that could let a person get away with murder. Her small white dress and lip gloss gave away the fact she was on a date.
"Excuse me, I would like two men's size ten's and a woman's size nine and eight please," she said with a smile while handing him a wad of five and one dollar bills.
"Four pairs of shoes, coming right up," he said while quickly turning and locating the different sizes. Scooping change out of the cash register he rang her up. He returned the extra coins and bills along with a nervous grin and pointed her down to lane seven.
The girl in the white dress retreated with her friends back to lane seven, giggling about how well their double date was going; leaving Peter to print out receipts that he immediately threw away. How great it must be to be able to leave the house whenever you want and hang out with friends wherever you wanted. The blonde's friend was a short brunette who, from what he could see, was there for moral support and barely talked to her date, who seemed bored out of his mind. The blonde girl's date, on the other hand, never seemed to stop talking. He would make wide sweeping gestures with his hands while talking and his long black curly hair would waste no time catching up with his face.
Mr. Leonard popped out of the dungeon with a dampened cringe on his face. Using long and quick strides he greased his hair back and made for the exit almost running over the custodian Huff. Huff made an effort to move his turgid body gracefully out of the way but despite his determination his thick limbs flailed as he stepped back and fell. Leonard gave a quick "Sorry." then a quick "See ya Petey boy!" and that was it. Peter's dad drifted out of the dungeon moments later taking short heavy steps as if he was sleepwalking. His dad surveyed the bowling alley just in time to see Huff struggling like a turtle on its back to get up. Satisfied that nobody was dying or at risk of dying he returned to his dungeon.
Peter quickly moved from behind the counter to help the discouraged Huff off the floor. As he pulled the janitor, up his eyes again rested on the double date at lane seven. The blonde girl was sitting down and she now looked unimpressed as she argued with her date, who was standing and flailing his arms. Her date then sat down next to her as if to at first comfort her. The tall curly haired boy was talking into her ear while slowly sliding his hand across her waist. The girl winced and was now futilely pushing her date away.
Before Peter could argue, his legs started walking towards lane seven. As he got closer he recognized tall harasser. It was Rick, captain of the varsity baseball team, the team Peter would be trying out for next year. It was too late, while he had been busy thinking his legs had been busy moving and now he was standing at lane seven with his arms crossed and an audience of four waiting to hear what he had to say.
"Well, uhh--is there a problem here guys?" Peter sputtered his words out to the senior.
Rick looked up with his surprise painted on his face "What? Problem? No problem here... bud."
Peter looked at the girl in the white dress and she returned a sheepish stare. Maybe it was something in the air that day, maybe it was the long hours standing around used shoes. Whatever it was Peter felt a confidence materialize in himself that he had never felt before.
"Let's ask her." Peter replied coolly.
Rick looked over at his date and his date began to squirm from the attention.
"I told you bud, we're--"
"Maybe you should go Rick." The soft words from the girl in the white dress brought the group to a silence.
Rick's face dropped from a phony smile to an annoyed look as he turned around and looked at the others. Blank stares were the only replies he got as he swiveled back to Peter and began smiling again.
"Okay! Okay! Man I didn't think a bowling alley would be so uptight. I guess I'll see you beautiful people later." Rick calmly got up and strode up to Peter.
"Good luck with baseball next year." Rick whispered and walked off.
Peter blushed at the realization that Rick had recognized him but when he looked over at the approving eyes of the girl that he had saved, all regret dissipated.
"What's your name?" she asked with an impressed half smile.
Peter, overwhelmed with the idea of talking to a girl so much older than himself, could barely squeak out "Pete".
"Hi Pete, I'm Lexi. Thanks for kicking that asshole out."
"No problem, i-if, well if you guys need any more help I'll be at the counter." Peter didn't know what else to say.
Lexi giggled to her friends and then returned the attention of her innocent smile to Peter. "Stay and hang out with us, we were going to play another game anyway," She said, "Plus you kicked my date out, I need someone to talk to." Peter looked back at the rickety counter and the flashing cash register but who the hell was he kidding; Huff could manage the place for thirty minutes anyways. So he sat down and asked her what school she went too.
"Brutus High." she replied. There were two big high schools in Pickney County. One on the north side named Crawford High and one on the south side named Brutus high. Crawford, where Rick and Peter went, had a reputation for being the poorer high school that sat side by side with a farm. "I take it you go to Crawford with Rick?"
"I'll be going there next year. Sometimes I practice on their baseball diamond though."
"I've always found Crawford so interesting. Whenever we drive by I love watching the sheep."
"Yup, they have all sorts of animals over at the farm." Peter had passed those sheep everyday on the way to school. Every day they would be out following Mr. Winston the property owner. Peter remembered how much the sheep loved Mr. Winston and how he wished that he could have a flock of sheep. When his parents told him that they had eaten one of Winston's lamb chops Peter had broken down and cried. How could a man kill something that loved him so much?
"You must be excited for high school."
The next hour was the most exciting hour Peter had ever experienced at the alley. It was surreal how disarming Lexi's white dress and smile were. The two of them stayed cemented to their seats and continued talking for the whole hour straight as if bowling was too much effort. They talked about Crawford High, about Brutus High, and about how Rick was a dick. When it was finally time for Lexi to go Peter began to feel sad.
"Thanks for the help today Petey." Lexi smiled as she began walking off.
"Could I get your phone number?"
Lexi stopped and turned around. She paused for a second but then replied "Haha umm sure why not?"
The rest of the day Peter could not get the image of Lexi out of his mind. He sat behind the cash register replaying their conversation. Somehow the stagnant air of Leonard's Lanes felt electric that day. The daily sounds of pins hitting a wooden floor were washed out by the memory of Lexi.
His drifting thoughts were finally woken up by his father's voice. They were driving home and it was clear that the rant he was hearing was for his father not him.
"That goddam bastard, been friends with him since middle school and this is how he treats me. He thinks he's better than me. That's what it is. Just thinks he's better than me because he owns the goddam building. Thinks he can make more money with a grocery store. What about me? Oh well I guess I could try putting you behind the cash register, already found a manager with experience. God damn, good for nothing, friend."
Peter had tuned back out of his father's incessant talking. All he could see was the white dress, and the seven digits he had written on the ripped trapezoidal piece of green copy paper in his right pocket. Oh those numbers he thought! Was this love? Is this the way it happened? A chance bowling game? The warm summer breeze washed through the window and combed Peter's hair. He had never felt so alive.
"Pete, so who was that girl?" his dad said looking at him genuinely curious.
"My girlfriend." Peter muttered with as little emotion he could muster. He hated talking to his dad.
"Since when?" His dad laughed, "That girl was at least three years older than you."
"So?" Peter couldn't think of anything else to say.
"Well so Pete, sometimes when you think another person cares about you, you find out in the end that maybe you didn't know each other as well as you thought you did."
Peter hated talking to his dad.
Upon the moment they arrived home Peter shot out of the car. His socks swam across the kitchen floor as he neared his destination. The phone let out a click of vain resistance as Peter's left hand swiped it from its platform. While Peter's left hand fumbled with the phone his right was submerged into his pocket grabbing the small green piece of paper. Making sure to get it right Peter delicately put the numbers in and soon heard the ring on the other end.
"Hello?" said Lexi at the other end.
"Hey Lexi, it's Peter from bowling."
"Oh . . . hey Pete." Lexi replied, not even trying to match Peter's excitement.
"Hey Lexi, I was wondering if you want see a movie or something this Friday."
"I really want to see that new one about the dinosaurs and the cavemen."
"--Sure Pete, we can see a movie."
"See you around 7? Okay! Bye!" Peter's hand trembled from excitement as he put the phone down.
The week ticked by for what seemed forever. Leonard didn't come by the bowling alley anymore and Peter began missing his daily dose of drama. His dad stayed in the dungeon all day and Huff was always off sweeping other people's messes or stumbling around trying to clean his own. Peter was left with the distant crack of pins being slaughtered for company, that, and his thoughts. Which were always about Lexi. The airy white dress, her blonde curly hair, the playful way she said his name. The one hour he spent with her was on continuous replay that entire week.
When Peter was home his parents were often busy arguing now. While Peter tried not to listen he would hear the words "job" and "money" over and over. It was an argument that Peter, according to his parents, he "wouldn't understand". As if he cared about what they were yelling about. To escape to his thoughts he had started sneaking off to the Crawford High sandlot and sneak in a few pitches for practice. In the star filled night you could hear the ping and pang of baseballs hitting the fence. Nothing at home or school matters on an empty baseball diamond in the night.
As slow as the week went by he had finally made it through Thursday, which meant it was the day before the date. As he and his dad closed shop Peter's giddiness reached a new feverish high. Peter had gotten into the habit of scoffing down his dinner in an effort to avoid the confrontation between his parents. Before the food had settled he was already lacing up his shoes.
He noticed his shoes, which were once white, had started to turn brown from all his late night trips to the sandlot. Mitt and ball in hand he briskly walked through the surprisingly chilly summer night. Upon reaching the diamond he set himself up on the pitcher's mound when out of the corner of his he saw what seemed to be an animal moving in the dugout. As he approached the dugout he started to make out two figures.
Lexi and Rick. Peter's confusion quickly morphed into a wide range of emotions none of which could be described as happy. Peter ran to the dugout but this time his legs did not want to come. Lexi and Rick were laid across the bench and Rick was getting what he had wanted at the bowling alley.
"What the hell are you doing with this creep Lexi!" Peter cried. Stunned the pair immediately looked up as if they had seen a ghost. But Rick was quick to recover.
"Well look who it is," Rick sneered "Shouldn't you be in bed bud, it's pretty late." Rick was now rising from the dugout showing off the fact he had no shirt on. "I think this time it's your turn to leave."
"Lexi..." The authority in Peter's voice had been reduced to a whisper.
"Lexi what? What? You actually think she liked you? Do you know how much older than you she is? C'mon bud you're kidding me."
"..." Peter's thoughts went quiet still trying to process what was happening.
"Rick c'mon, stop." Lexi whispered. Rick smiled, that was all the self-affirmation he needed.
Rick's voice permeated the darkness "Get out of here kid."
Peter ran. Peter's legs ran and he ran. Wiping at his watering eyes he left red smudges where the tears and dust met. When Peter got home his parents were still arguing. His mom was yelling while scrubbing dishes and his dad was yelling while watching TV. Peter ran past all of this, making his way as efficiently as possible to the bathroom. Now sobbing he looked at himself in the mirror. What had he been thinking? How could he have been such a chump? Slowly he massaged his face over the sink and realized the house was quiet. Then he heard a knock at the door.
"Oh honey, I'm so sorry you've had to hear me and your dad argue." his mom whispered outside.
Peter crawled out of the bathroom with short heavy steps as if he were sleep-walking. He looked up and saw that both his parents standing there with concerned faces.
"Well son, no more arguing, we're moving to Texas." Peter's dad soothed. "I know this is sudden, and it's far away, but we don't have much of a choice. Already found a nice job down there, and best of all, Leonard won't be there to give it away. It's going to be a tough move but you understand why we have to right?"
It had been a month since he had run home from the diamond. In the August heat, they heaved the last of their furniture into the sad little U-haul. This summer had passed like a dream to Peter, and he was still trying to work out if it had all actually happened. As the truck sputtered down the road he looked out his window. The sun was starting to set, and the orange glow seemed to give the feeling of hope. On the way out of town he saw Leonard's Lanes. The place had been boarded up, and hanging in the window was a banner reading Uncle Leonard's Farm! Grand Opening in October! As they passed Crawford High he stared at the dusty baseball diamond and realized he would never pitch a game on it. Finally, Peter saw Mr. Winston's farm. Mr. Winston was out there leading his sheep around and they all followed him in adoration. Peter remembered how much the sheep had loved it when Winston cut off their wool and milked them. Then he remembered the lamb chops, and how it had been so troubling that a person could kill something that wanted to be his friend. That there were people out there that never really cared about you, the way you do about them.