John finds he knows a good thing, but will he get the message?
| Leaves rolled across Shawna's lawn.
John frowned at the perfect neighborhood around him, clean and green. All the lawns passed muster except for his—her—yard, where the leaves rolled about, showing everybody that he no longer claimed the place. Everybody didn't need to know Shawna's business, and it galled him. He stomped on the brakes, brought the car to a screeching halt.
He should be there. While he had failed that, still he owed it to Shawna to be graceful. He cringed and flashed a smile at her, sitting beside him.
Shawna nodded and stepped out of John's yellow Pacer. Hand resting on the passenger window, she turned to him and scratched beneath her nose. "Yesterday, you went to—"
Shawna's blue eyes saw too much; he could not look into them. Instead, he looked down at the pedals, gripped the steering wheel, and shook his head. He had never spoken to Carol, not once in all these years. Unable to explain himself, he settled on a lie. "Carol had a late shift."
Shawna stiffened. A rain drop ran down her jawline, another caressed her cheek. "She ... didn't accept."
John's throat tightened. "Beginning to rain, Shaw. Should get inside, before you catch your death."
j "I can take it, John." Shawna wiped her eye. "My love."
John winced. They both wanted a man to take her in his arms, make it all go away. She would wait a long time before she would invite any other man. It would be so easy to say yes, at least for today, but he had no right, no right at all, to waste her time like that. He held her gaze. "If you don't get in out of this mess, you'll be miserable all week."
Shawna nodded and ran to the house, head bowed.
The car lurched forward, slapping her door closed. John drove away.
"Why, John?" He pushed the accelerator. "One little lie is all it would've—"
The stop sign came at him too fast. He swerved to avoid hitting a young man crossing the street, and stopped halfway in the intersection.
John sat and stared for half a minute. He slapped on the hazards, yanked the key, and stormed out of the vehicle, flinging the door closed behind him.
The pedestrian still stood there, mouth agape at the yellow Pacer, half in and half out of bounds.
John ran his fingers through his hair, looking at the way he had left the car. What was he thinking? What was he doing? He covered over his eyes and wandered away.
"But, you can't leave it in the intersection! That's a perfectly good car."
He shook his head and waved the keys in the air. "That's the point, isn't it? I don't know a good thing when I've got it."
"Well, go park it, or something."
"You care so bloody much, take her." He threw the keys in the man's face and stalked off.
"Well, I'm not going to just..."
John shook his head and put the man's voice out of his mind, walking down the lane. He looked again at the buildings, windows like eyes boring into him. Not one of them had ever seen a perfect person, man or woman, who quite lived up to the noble lies they dared to claim for their own. Only, the other people did not splash the toxic truth around like madmen, did not babble about random forgotten fantasies. "What do you want from me?"
A boy on a bike skidded to a stop. He sat there, looking down at John, expression blank.
"Well?" John looked at him.
"I want an Xbox."
John stared at the boy, who kept looking, then went for his wallet. "You strong enough to run a lawn mower and a rake?" He counted twenty seven dollars: lunch money. He could go hungry.
"That won't buy me anything."
"Then hide it under the bed and come back next week."
The boy smiled. "You're that cheater."
What sense defending himself? Did it even matter if it had actually happened--he had wanted. "If you know that, then you know where I live."
The boy raised an eyebrow.
John growled. "Lived."
"My brother says you're an idiot." He grabbed the money.
"You know what, kid?" He eyed the money, stomach growling, then forced a smile. "Your brother's right."
"Don't cry, mister."
The tears burned at the back of John's nose, but he held tight. "Just, get going before I change my mind."
"I'll do it tomorrow."
"So long as it's done. And done right."
The boy stuffed the money in his pocket. "Don't worry mister. I'll send you my girlfriend."
John just started walking as the rain dug into his shirt and down his socks, and he let the fire in his face erupt in tears. "Everybody knows anyhow."
Clouds blew together, closing off every patch of blue sky. Sheet after sheet of water slapped the earth. The rain hit harder with every step. The wind blew from behind as if a bouncer pushed him out of town. Each step left the town cleaner, and pulled more warmth from his body.
Ahead of him, the road sign said, "Dead end."
He paused, and stood before the sign, his future lined up before him down that road. Long, empty days working at the keyboard and nights spent staring into one drink or another. The best he could hope for was a ride off a cliff. He turned around to look for his car.
Carol stood behind the register. Long hair swept over her eyes, set off by the blue crystal point at the side of her eyeglasses, directing energy at whatever she looked at. She gave him a wry smile.
"Sorry to hear that you and your husband broke up, Carol."
She nodded, tilted her head.
John pulled out a handkerchief and blotted his forehead. "I just had to tell you something."
Carol ruffled the pack of cards at her waist, and shrugged. "I know, John."
"I always thought of you as the perfect girl. Like, better than reality. Better than television. Something out of a book." He shook his head. "Always regretted not asking you to the prom."
"That is—" she took a breath, and looked him up and down. "Very sweet."
"Reason I am telling you this is, I hurt a very beautiful woman, and..."
"I don't need to pull a card to know where this is going, John."
"The thing is, see, she deserves the best."
Carol touched John on the back of the jaw. "And you don't think that's you?"
"Well, I am here, aren't I?"
Carol took him by both sides of the head, and kissed him on the forehead. Then, she drew a sign on his cheek. "It is not where you're at. It's what you're doing."
"Shawna wants you to have the best. Even if that's not her."
John's eyes got wide. "Is that what she thinks?"
He put his handkerchief over his mouth. "Oh, my."
Carol made the brushing gesture, and John rushed for the door.
As the taxi rounded the corner, Shawna stood leaning against the Pacer's back fender.
John threw a wad of money at the front seat and jumped out before she could even stop. He ran to Shawna's open arms, grabbed her and sunk his face into her shoulder. "Don't ever let me hear you think you're second best."
She ruffled his hair, and pulled his head back to make eye contact. "For a second there, I almost thought you were going to get it." Her lips brushed his, and then she pulled him toward the door.
Author's Questions ▼