“When I was 15, I had a crush on this guy who was really good at magic, and so I learned to juggle, thinking it would impress him. I spent hours and hours practicing, planning to show him. And then I never even saw him again. But at least I learned how to juggle.”
- Danica McKellar
Everyone has high school crushes, no matter what age you are. I once had the honor of hearing Kurt Vonnegut speak and during the two hour lecture on fiction and writing he gave a wistful account of the tattooed, pierced young lady that worked at this local post office. The crush was ignored by his wife who, to paraphrase, knew the old man had no chance in hell with the younger female. Such is life and is the crush.
The crush can become significant when you find much later that the object of your unexpressed affection whom you had long since filed away in the back of your mind had also noticed you as well. What kept you apart? Shyness? Ineptitude? Circumstance comparable to a Shakespearian comedy? Who knows and, honestly, who cares?
See, in a way the crush is supposed to be just that. A crush. The thing that spurs you on, gives you a little hope, maybe causes a little greatness in your day. And when you realize that it's not to be... Crush. Because if it were more, then it would be more. If it were love, well, they already have a word for that, don’t they?
After the wedding on Friday, the weekend seemed rather dull. Mom extended the hours on Saturday to make up for the closing on Friday. From eight in the morning to five in the evening, we besieged by the family members of college football fans. At five we packed up the place, cleared the left over wedding cake from the fridge and headed home.
I sat in my small apartment for an hour getting antsy. I could not get the thought of Natalie out of my head, how she had looked at the wedding. Maybe I should have taken her hand and walked her out onto that dance floor despite all protest, but maybe that time has past. What I knew was that I could not sit in my room alone forever thinking about what shoulda, woulda, coulda done.
So I went out. I took my keys and drove to the only place in town I knew people would be that would have some interesting stories and would not judge me: The Honky Tonk. Plus, maybe someone might know who the mysterious Cassidy was.
I walked through the bar and a cheer rose from a corner of the room. Ignoring the noise, I walked over to the bar and ordered a beer from Sam.
“I.D.?” he asked.
I raised an eyebrow and he chuckled. Old joke. Back when me and mine were a little under the legal age for alcohol, Sam used to sell us warm six packs from the bait shop next door. Never said a thing about the beer, but if you tried to buy cigarettes he would ask for identification. He was not serious, of course, but the question alone would stop most teenagers in their tracks.
I paid for the beer and walked over to a table against one wall. I pulled out my phone and began to play a little game where you killed green pigs with multicolored birds. Amazing where technology will take us.
“Su’prized you’d be walkin and talkin’ after last week.”
I looked up and the twins stood over me. Barry and Garry Campbell wore their best coveralls, meaning these were decorated with the stains of the most recent meal and no more.
“Barry, Garry,” I said, putting my phone away, “How you boys doing?”
I motioned to the seats and they sat down.
“Oh, you know us, Mr. Banned,” said Barry, running a hand through his blond crew cut, “We make out. You?”
“Got Dave off and married. Not shit else. And it’s Evan, Mr. Banned is my mother.”
The twins cracked smiles and clinked bottles with me.
“So, Evan,” Garry said, “You kill Ava?”
I almost spit my beer on him. Recovering, I shook my head.
“Hell, no. How... Is that what people are saying?” I asked, knowing full well the whole damn town had an opinion and I had been the only one arrested.
“People say lots of stuff,” Barry said, shrugging his shoulders, “Just always good to ask. S’what Mama taught us, right Garry?”
“Shit, yeah,” the other man said, “I’ma just curious. How’s Darling taking it?”
“Darling? Okay, I guess. He was there that night, left her alone. Broken up about it and all.”
“Way he carried a torch for her, you’d think there’d be more than broken up,” Barry said.
“What?” I asked, “How do you know Darling? And Ava? Don’t imagine them out here much.”
“High school,” Barry said.
Garry nodded, “Yeah, we was held back a few for fightin and shit. Graduated with Ava. Darling was in a class below us. Followed her around like a little puppy. Hey, Barry, remember that time you took Darling and...”
“Wait, wait, wait...” I said, “That can’t be true. Darling’s from Gulfport. Said so on his resume. Graduated from down there.”
The twins looked at each other. Barry let out a breath and looked at me.
“Mr. Banned... Evan, I don’t know about all that. But he was here.”
“How come I don’t remember him? I know everybody in this damn town.”
“No, that ain’t quite true. You don’t know everybody. Everybody knows you in this damn town. Plus, this was years back when you went off,” Garry said.
I thought on that for a minute. I thought about all the things that Darling had told me, how little he had talked about his family. I thought about what he had said about Ava, about how he had acted around her.
“But... she never let on that she knew him. Nothing like that,” I said.
Barry drew a shape in the condensation on his beer, “Look, I’m not one to speak ill of the dead, but... well, Ava was kind of a bitch. Plus, Darling wasn’t the only one that hung around her, getting her things, making her life all better while she walked on the clouds and shit. Even with a name like that, when you are looking from the queen’s throne... I dunno, ants and shit, you know? Still, sad about that and all. Here’s to her. And her little boy, and to... Gondor!”
“To Gondor!” Garry chanted.
I agreed and decided to put the thoughts out of my mind. I was tired of murder, tired of weddings, tired of the library, tired of everything that my life had become. I just wanted to have a few beers with some nice folks and forget about everything for a night.
I turned my beer up as well and slammed the empty down on the table when I was done. I was going to have fun, tonight, by god... or get really drunk trying.
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