Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
I wanted to sleep so badly and so I couldn’t; isn’t that the way it always goes? I tossed and turned in bed thinking about what Jennifer Kruger, now a resident of Alpine Meadows Assisted Living Center had told me. “Man up!” she’d written. I knew she was right as I punched down my pillows. For years I’d been afraid of rejection. This time it would be different. It was almost dawn by the time I finally drifted off to sleep. The first rays of sunlight were creeping over the mountains to the east and spreading across Motha Forest when once again I found myself moving down the infinitely long and dim hallway with entryways on each side … looking for a crack of light under a special door.
Mrs. Dern’s fifth hour English Literature class was just as I remembered it, with one exception. Jennifer Kruger was in the row of seats directly opposite me wearing a plaid skirt that rode well above mid-thigh as she arranged her essay assignment on Edgar Allen Poe. Man up! This same vision of beauty had told me almost a half a century in the future.
Even without having to look I knew Rex Roker was sitting directly behind me. I could hear him panting like a dog and chuckling as he lodged spit wads around the room. The room was buzzing with distracted chatter. Mrs. Dern was droning on endlessly about the literary virtues of Poe’s narrative story, The Adventures of Hans Pfall, but I was far less excited about a man who flies to the moon in a balloon made of dirty newspapers than about the daring thing I knew I was about to do.
I caught Jennifer’s attention by knocking my textbook off the right side of my desk and then whispering to her as I picked it up. To my horror, the classroom fell into a deathly silence the moment I opened my mouth. My wild galloping tongue was escaping through an open fence made of teeth and it was impossible to hold it back. “Er … I was wandering … if you’d love to go to a bite … and then afterwards movie with me on Friday night?”
The entire class howled with laughter as Rex Roker stood up and moved his hips in wildly exaggerated sexual ecstasy as if having intercourse with some animal – most likely a pig! His pudgy face was distorted with animated bliss. “Movie with me!” he bellowed. “Come on baby! First suffer my bite then … movie … movie … movie with me!”
I had to admit Jennifer looked almost as if she had a measure of compassion, although in a motherly way, as she peered down with her lovely violet eyes and said “I don’t think so … sorry!”
I wanted the school custodian to come in right then and scrape me off the floor and put me in a garbage can, hopefully to be incinerated as soon as possible. This was not to be part of my dream. I had to endure another twenty minutes of giggles, muffled amusement and poor Mrs. Dern trying to quiet a class driven nearly to the edge of tearful laughter and insanity. All I could think of when I finally dragged myself out of the classroom, pinching myself trying to wake up, was one word … nevermore!
Even when you think you’ve reached the bottom another pit can be dug. The school nurse pulled me from my sixth hour geometry class and I found myself in the school councilor’s office seated before stern Mrs. Vicks. “I understand you suffered an episode today during English Literature …” The way she pronounced “episode” made me believe what I’d done was akin to having a grand mall seizure. Thankfully I saw a rectangle of light appear next to a portrait of Richard Nixon and I felt myself flying toward it.
Why is it that the best dreams vanish quickly but those you want to forget linger forever? I was still fighting my humiliation when I visited Alpine Meadows later in the day to see my mother. Never before had I taken the long way around to avoid walking past Jennifer’s door but I did so today. There was no way she could have known about the results of my “manning up” but I wasn’t taking any chances. It was as if the whole world knew that an extinct Stegosaurus with a brain the size of a walnut had once again lumbered across the face of the Earth.
The visit with my mother was a happy one although I was sure she sensed something was amiss. “I saw you talking with Jennifer the other day,” she asked with a smile. “How is she doing?”
“Fine - I guess,” I quickly tried to change the subject. I asked her about the meals she was getting and helped her dial-in some channels on her TV. After an hour of idle chat, I left when she was ready for a nap. I almost ran from Alpine Meadows and didn’t look back.
I spent the next three days floating and fishing on the Cottonmouth River with a friend who was visiting from California. I thought fresh air, the sound of lapping water and an occasional fresh-caught squirming trout would dispel my anguish about what I’d done in my dream … but it didn’t. I slept fitfully at best and when I did finally drop-off there was no long hallway and no light glowing beneath a certain door to search for.
A week later, after my mother had asked me to push her to the dining room in a wheel chair, I spied Jennifer as I placed mom at a table with her chatty friends. She was smiling and waving me to a table where she sat alone. There was no way I could refuse. Jennifer looked at me strangely before writing on her pad. What’s wrong?
I sat down and over a bowl of soup I ended up telling her my entire last dream. She smiled when I came to the part about Rex Rocker’s gyrations but looked suitably compassionate when I described the meeting with the school counselor.
Don’t give up! She wrote. I’ll admit her smile seemed to not only brighten up me but seemed to illuminate the entire dining area.
“What can I do?” I looked at her accusingly as I sat down my spoon. “You turned me down!”
Don’t blame me! It’s your dream she wrote. After a moment she started a new page. Why not ask me what I want to do? And then say that you’d love to do it with me.
“I don’t know if I could suffer through something like that again.” I told her.
She laughed silently … and I felt like a chump.
Catch me when I’m alone and then ask she wrote be sincere and truthful … and I’m sure the answer will be …Yes.
“Even in my dreams, I’ve never seen you without an army of friends surrounding you in the halls,” I told her.
I was certainly surprised by what she wrote next … I had no idea.
I always spend at least an hour each day after last class in the school library she wrote and I’m almost always alone.
“I’ll do it,” I told her, “as long as you’re not sitting next to Rex Roker!”
She smiled again and I felt my heart melting as she wrote something on the paper. Instead of holding it up she motioned me closer so I had to get right next to her to read it. Jennifer planted a kiss on my lips which surprised me as much as it did Mrs. Childs, the assisted living center administrator, who stood glaring from across the room. I think she must have been afraid we would start fornicating right there between the tables before the other residents could finish their split pea soup.
I noticed my mother and her friends smiling as I left the building. It must have been some contagious disease because as I climbed in my car and caught my reflection in the rear view mirror I was smiling myself.
My fishing buddy called right after I returned home and I ended up spending the rest of the afternoon and a good part of the night helping him put a new clutch in his F-150 Ford pickup. When I finally got home I was exhausted and after heating up two frozen enchilada’s in the microwave and woofing them down with a bowl of tossed green salad from a bag I fell into a sound sleep. I’m not sure when but it must have been in the early hours of morning when I began to dream. My friend’s truck became a shaggy dog and we were trying to brush cockle burrs from its fur and our fingers were getting greasy … then finally there was the long hallway and the door to Jennifer.
She was sitting alone at a table in the school library just as she said she would be. I foolishly sat at a table across the empty room from her without any books and stared at her like a hungry turtle looking at a head of lettuce. Finally I manned up and climbed out of my shell.
“Hi,” I said as I sat down at the table beside her. “I’m sorry about what happened in English literature yesterday,’ I blurted. “I seem to always get so nervous talking to girls and then my tongue starts to do summersaults on a trampoline.”
“Your tongue must like to show off,” she smiled. “But I thought you were adorable!”
She giggled. “Although biting and then all that movie movement stuff might sound a little kinky … at least it’s different!”
I couldn’t tell if she was playing with me and I started to get up. “Wait,’ she said. “I’m not making fun of you … I’m making fun of us! What a way to meet!” she laughed and I felt my heart melt.
She was my dream girl for a reason. I was beginning to love everything about her, the way her eyes looked directly into mine as if she could tell what I was going to think and say … even before I did. “Was this all that you came over here to tell me?” I almost said yes and walked away but I remembered what the Jennifer from 50 years in the future had written “Man Up our future together depends on it.”
“Actually I just wanted to spend some time with you. Is there anything that you like to do that we could do together?”
“I could think of a lot of things … but most of them require being married … in polite society,” she laughed. Suddenly her eyes grew wistful as she looked at me. “Saturday night … pick me up at seven … and we’ll go roller-skating.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing even if it was just in a dream. No-one in my school ever went roller skating; it was considered an activity for ten-year old children. Still I had my first date with Jennifer and I found myself skipping like a child as I left the High School and started down Garlow Avenue. A stoplight at the intersection with Main Street that I’m sure had never been there before suddenly switched from a green light to a white rectangle and I knew the dream was coming to an end. I only hoped that it would continue where I left off.
I spent the next morning walking around in a daze. I tried to go back to bed several times but sleep wouldn’t come. I finally decided to visit my mom. Jennifer’s door was closed when I went past and I was anxious to tell her how the dream went. My mother was feeding a black kitten in her room when I entered after knocking. “Her name is Isabelle,” Mom said. “I don’t know how long I can keep her. Old Mr. Barnes had his son smuggle a box full of them past Mrs. Childs and Emma Lou Dawson had already been caught with a stripped tabby in her underwear drawer.”
“I could put a deadbolt lock on your door,” I told her in jest.
“It wouldn’t do any good,” Mom said, ignoring my joke. “A platoon of caregivers comes in every night at seven to bring me my medications and there is a strict rule against any pets that can jump out of an aquarium, or open the latch on a bird cage.” She lit an incense candle on her dresser …“to hide the smell of the litter-box under the bed.” she explained.
After I left my mother’s room I hung around in the common area looking for Jennifer. Her door was closed and for some reason I was afraid to knock. Finally I went home did a few chores and tried to sleep. Finally about two AM I drifted off. I woke up in the morning and as far as I could tell I hadn’t dreamed at all. I busied myself mowing the lawn and cleaning the garage. After five o’clock I started jogging. I was desperate to wear myself out. Finally, after the evening news, I did fifty push-ups, ran in place for twenty minutes and did a hundred sit-ups. Either I was going to fall asleep or have a heart attack … there was no other option. I drank a large glass filled with warm milk and still punched my pillow every five minutes. As the clock on the table next to my bed slowly moved past 4 AM I began to feel drowsy. The last thing I remember before I found myself in the long hallway with doors on both sides was the digital clock changing to 4:19.
Starlight Skating was playing Sugar Sugar by the Archies as the skaters moved in a circle around an ever-changing strobe-lit floor. Under blue and gold flashing lights, Jennifer looked like a dazzling ballerina in a short sequined skirt and a red tank top. Her smile could have been advertising toothpaste. She didn’t skate, she danced. Her spectacular jumps, spins and slides made me look like a clumsy cow trying to cross a frozen pond. I didn’t mind I could tell she was having fun … and so was I.
There were only three people left on the floor at closing time and Jennifer kissed me when they announced the last song. We slow danced (skated) to "Baby It's You" by the group called Smith and I was in heaven. We were the last ones to leave the place and as we walked holding hands toward my father’s Chevy Impala I heard a car skid to a stop in the gravel parking lot. Rex Roker was climbing out of his smoke-grey fifty-six Chevy. Three other members of the Cloverdale wrestling team climbed from the passenger side and the back seat. “Well! Well! Well!” Rex boomed as his booted feet crunched in the gravel. “Jenny Kruger blows me off to go roller skating with the class dork!”
“I’ve never read the rule book that says I have to date a monkey,” Jennifer told him.
“Just one kiss,” Rex said as he pushed past me, then turned and cuffed the side of my head. “She owes me that much for leading me on!”
Jennifer tried to scratch him and when I saw him grab her arms and twist them I hurdled my whole one-hundred eighty pounds at him. I wish I could say I knocked him off balance or even stunned the gorilla, but it was like running into a brick wall. He turned and rabbit punched me with fists as big as smoked hams. The next thing I know I was face-down in the lot getting a mouthful of gravel each time one of his friends kicked me.
I must have blacked out. When I pushed myself upright I could see Rex’s Chevy taillights leaving the parking lot. When the car passed under a streetlamp and turned onto the highway I could tell Jennifer was fighting him in the back seat and all Rex’s friends were in the front.
It took me at less than a minute to stagger to my car and start the engine, but it felt like an eternity. Rex’s Chevy was nothing but two specks of light in the distance when I roared after them. I knew there was no way I could overpower four men built like bulldozers so I laid on the Impala’s horn trying to catch the attention of a cop.
Whoever was driving Rex’s car must have been worried too. By the time they caught air going across the Wallace Street Bridge we were both going over eighty miles an hour. I remember thinking it was a flash of lightning but it was a white station wagon being blasted apart as it pulled in front of Rex’s car just on the other side of the bridge. I was skidding sideways when I saw Rex’s car roll over twice and then burst into flames as it tore through the Texaco gas pumps.
I was on the street and running toward the inferno while my car was still moving. A ringing sound blasted my ears and I remember thinking the gas station must have had an alarm that went off when Rex’s car crashed into the wall. I looked for Jennifer but it was like staring into an inferno. I felt something lift me from the ground and when I turned there was the rectangle of light. “No! No! No!” I moaned, but my voice echoed back to me from the other side of sanity.
I woke up in bed with the telephone ringing. Mrs. Child’s voice was alarmed but direct and to the point. “Alpine Meadows is on fire,” she said. “We need you to come down here as soon as possible!”
To be continued…