I hope you enjoy this short story I wrote.
By Youseph Tanha
Something crashed violently. This time It sounded like glass. Her parents had been shouting since about the time she came home from school. She had been in her room ever since, hiding from her father’s rage. No dinner. No water. Just her, alone in her room. The raised voices of her parents splintering through the walls of her bedroom. Sometimes her father would get so angry the whole house would shake right down to it’s foundation. On the really bad nights the police would show up. They would ask if everything was alright and her folks would tell them that everything was fine. Sometimes they would come into the house, just to make sure. It always ended the same way though. “Keep it down. Your neighbors are complaining. We don’t want to have to come out here again.” But just as soon as the squad car was gone, her father would start up again. First the yelling. Yelling at her mom about the noisy neighbors, the crappy dinner he had to eat, or how unfair life was. All the while the Masterson girl was left alone in her room. Left alone only with her thoughts.
At around 9:20 that evening she sat up in bed and pulled on her shoes. She didn’t bother to tie the laces. They were so frayed it didn’t matter anyway. She walked over to the window and with one leg at a time slipped out onto the roof, quite as can be. Not that it mattered. Her parents were so loud that being quiet about sneaking onto the roof was nearly pointless. She closed the window behind her and carefully scooted herself to the edge of the roof where she hugged her legs and rested her head on her knees. She could still hear them yelling, along with the occasional sound of something breaking. Looking down into a neighbor’s window she saw Mrs. Brown shaking her head with an annoyed look on her face as she washed dishes.
It was a clear night out. The stars shined brightly, even though a street light glowed nearby. It would have been an enjoyable evening just sitting on the roof, watching the stars, if it weren’t for her parents arguing cutting through the night like knife.
Her parents didn’t used to argue like this. A few years ago is when the Masterson girl first started seeing her father drink in the evenings. She would get woken up at all odd hours of the night because her father would be stumbling through the house, get upset over a chair that was in his way, or because he could not find any more beer. Sometimes when she got home from school she would empty any beer she could down the drain, so her father could not get drink it. But he just started buying beer on his way home from work.
The Masterson girl could not understand why her father drank when he knew it just turned him into a monster. Her mother would try and comfort her. Telling her that her father was stressed at work. That rumors of layoffs and increased workloads where too much for him to handle, so he drank. He drank because he didn’t know how to deal with the stress and that soon things would be better. Her father had been so angry for so long now that she no longer believed her mother when she said this.
She turned to look up at the stars. To make a wish, even though it was not a night for shooting stars. She wished that her dad was not stressed at work. She wished he was not a drunk. She wished they could be a happy family like she remembered they were when she was younger.
The Masterson girl started to well up, a tears building up behind her light colored eyes. As she went to rub her eyes she saw an old red car coming around the corner and pulling into the apartment building across the street. Once the engine turned off all she could hear was the sound of her parents fighting again.
A young man emerged from the drivers seat. He wore a thin black jacket with a green shirt underneath and blue jeans. He walked easily around to the back of his car and pulled out a cigarette. He lit it with a Zippo, closed his eyes as took a long deep drag and leaned back against the trunk of his car. As he exhaled the smoke came out from between his lips in a steady stream of air like a chimney. He opened his eyes and looked around. Masterson knew that with all the noise her parents were making that it was only a matter of time before the young man’s gaze came toward her house and then to her on the roof.
There was a crash. Something big broke this time. A glass bowl? The hallway mirror that already had a crack in it? No, those weren’t big enough to have caused the sound she heard. Then it hit her. The TV. Her father broke the TV. She sighed heavily.
There was a moment of silence that followed. Young Masterson wondered if her mom was hurt. She had never known her father to hit her mom before. She had seen him raise his hand like he was going to, but he never actually hit her. Would he tonight?
The young man from across the street looked over to the Masterson’s house just as the girl feared. The yelling started up again. She watched the young man leaning against his car take another drag from his cigarette. It was at that moment that he noticed her sitting on the edge of the roof. The light breeze brushing her hair ever so slightly away from her shoulders. He looked at her and she looked at him as he blew out some more smoke from behind his lips.
The two just looked at each other from across the street for a long while. A wordless conversation held between their eyes. The Masterson girl had seen him before a few times. In the mornings when she would start her walk to school she’d see him get into his red car and drive off. To work she’d guessed. Other times she would see him from her window up in her room, loading his drums into his car. He had so many that she thought that the car might burst open at any moment like a house of cards collapsing and falling apart on all sides.
The young man took another drag from his cigarette as got up from his car and started across the street. Masterson started to panic inside. What was he going to do? This is so embarrassing, she thought. He crossed the ditch into her yard with a hop and walked right under where she was perched up on the roof.
He looked at her for a moment, the sounds of yelling coming from within the house, and then spoke. “You want to get out of here for a little bit?”
She thought for a moment looking at him, then answered “yes”.
He flicked his cigarette into the street and held both of his arms up. “Jump down.” he said, without hesitation. “I’ll catch you.”
Masterson, hesitantly wiggled her way down to the very edge of the roof, her legs dangling beneath her. With her hands she popped off the edge, and true to the young man’s word, he caught the full weight of her in his arms. He smelled like a man who had been working hard all day. A smell she liked. He gently eased her to the ground, feeling just how tiny she was against his body. Once she was safely on the ground, he saw for the first time, just how young she was.
He turned saying, “come on.” Walking back over to his apartment. Masterson followed beside him. “Are they like that a lot?” He asked, crossing the ditch onto the road. The pavement almost shining from the glow of the street light.
“Yeah”, she answered, barely above a whisper.
He got in his car and leaned over to unlock the passenger side door for her. Masterson opened it up and slowly got in, unsure if this was the safest thing to be doing so late at night. He started the engine and looked over at her.
“Seat belt.” He said.
She reached over to pull the belt down across her chest, accenting her breasts. She fumbled around for a moment trying to locate where it connected. As she did so, the sleeve of her hoodie rose up and the young man noticed cuts across her exposed wrist. The sight burning in his mind.
He threw the car into reverse and then pulled out onto the road, heading up the street and onto the freeway. His car was old enough that it had a cassette deck. He pushed in a tape. A worn out copy of Billy Joel hits. The music was just loud enough that it could be heard, but not so loud as to prevent them talking to each other.
They were approaching a bend in the road. A shouldered car appeared on the right with its flashers on. A man in dark cloths bent over trying to replace a tire. That’s not safe, the young man thought to himself as he signaled to switch lanes away from the shouldered vehicle.
“Whats the name of your band?”
“Your band”, Masterson asked again. “I have seen you loading up your car with drums. I just guessed you were in a band.”
“I am. We’re called ‘The Small Town Boys’. It’s a cover band.”
“What songs do you cover?” She asked, her eyes moving from the road onto him.
“Mostly current top forty hits with random older songs that were popular. We play a lot of bar gigs around the area.”
“Are you guys any good?”
He brandished a cocky smile. “Yeah. Heh, we’re good.”
“I’ll have to come see you guys play some time then.”
He turned to look her over. “Are you even old enough to get into a bar?”
“There are ways.” she said.
He knew she was telling the truth. He had been playing around far too long to not know that uderage kids where able to sneek into bar shows if they really wanted to.
It started to rain and the young man’s mind wandered back to the man changing his flat tire on the side of the road as he turned on his wipers. A sign for a Denny’s appeared out of the darkness. It was just after 10:30 and he became suddenly aware of how hungry he was. Without saying anything he took the exit and followed the ramp up to the top of the hill, where he pulled in the the restaurant’s parking lot. The two got out of the car and walked toward the entrance.
“I don’t have any money.” she said to him, as they walked inside.
“It’s not a problem.” he said holding the door open for her. “Tonight’s on me.”
Inside the place was tidy and warm. Oldies played over the sound system. Yellow tinted fluorescent lighting gave the whole place a sleepy feel. Except for the cook behind the counter and two waitresses the place seemed completely empty. The older of the two waitresses sat them down in the smoking section and said she would be back in a minute to take their order and would they like any coffee. They both said yes at the same time and smiled a small smile at each other.
They browsed their menus. Masterson, was deciding what to get while the young man thought over what to do next. He wanted her to talk. To share what was going on at her home. It was apparently bad enough that she was cutting herself. He knew nothing about her and didn’t know if asking her directly would have her shy away from talking. Talking about things would be better for her. It would help, if only a little, make things less stressful. He wanted her to know that no matter how bad things were that she could talk to him and he would listen.
He flipped the laminated menu over. On the other hand, he thought, maybe just having another person around. Someone to spend some time with would be helpful to her. Her cloths were not new. Far from it. He had noticed earlier that her jeans and hoodie had rips throughout. He also knew she was cute and hated himself for thinking that way, but if he were honest with himself that was probably a big reason why he was being so nice to her tonight. He was realizing he had a weak spot for people who needed help. Stupid codependents.
She put her menu down and so did he a moment later. They sat for a long minute, observing each other, trying not to be obvious about it. He lit a cigarette with the zippo from his pocket when the waitress returned. “Coffee?”
He flipped his coffee cup right and slid it to the end of the table, “Yes.”
She also flipped her coffee cup over, “Yes please.”
Before the waitress finished filling up the second cup she asked. “Have you two kids decided what you would like?”
She smiled, “The French Toast looks good.”
“It is hon. You’ll love it” she said, with a smile. “And for you?”
He glanced quickly back at his menu realizing he didn’t pick anything earlier. “umm…” he said, stalling for a quick moment. “The Farmers omelette.” Then added “Please.”
“You bet.” The waitress gathered up the menus and whipped away some spilled coffee from under their cups before returning to the counter.
“Thank you.” She said, hesitantly. “For feeding me.”
“Don’t mention it.” He took a drag from his cigarette and blew the smoke up away from their faces
“Can I see your lighter?” She asked.
He pulled out the zippo from his pocket with his free hand and handed it over to her. The metal felt warm in her hands as she examined all it’s sides. He know her question before she asked it.
“Why does it have these tick marks?”
“Each one represents a life.” he said.
She counted over 16 of them and looked up questioningly.
“The Zippo used to belong to my grandfather.” He said. “Before he passed away. He left it to me in his will. This was the Zippo he used to keep on him during the war. Each tick mark represents a friend he lost.”
“Oh.” She said, letting the weight of his words sink in as she opened the lighter. The smell of the lighter fluid hit her nose so harshly that she pulled her face away as she closed it up again. She handed it back and he replaced it back in his pocket.
“So, are you going to get in trouble tonight for leaving.”
“No”, she said looking down at the table. “My dad will go on yelling until he passes out drunk. They don’t ever check on me. I think my mom is just happy when he passes out and does not want to do anything that might set him off again.”
“I see.” he said, thinking to himself as he took another drag from his cigarette. He still was not sure if he could keep asking about her life. He hoped she would know he was ok to talk to about this stuff and hoped she would start volunteering some information.
“Did you used to go to Andrews High?” She asked, slowly looking up at him. She was trying to judge his age. She guessed 24.
“Yeah, I did. I graduated a few years ago when that big storm came through and most of the town was flooded out.”
“A few years ago! That was more like ten years ago. I was just a kid when that happened.”
He put his hands to his head and rubbed his eyes with the flat of his palms. “Oh god. How old are you again?”
“Seventeen.” She answered quickly. “That makes you..” She paused for a moment. “Twenty eight?”
“Twenty Nine.” he corrected her.
“Man, your old.”
“Twenty nine is not old.” He said, defensively.
“I didn’t mean like that that. It’s just. You don’t look that old. You look more like twenty four or twenty five, maybe.”
He gave her a little smirk as he put out his cigarette just as the waitress arrived with their orders. “French Toast for the lady and a Farmers Omelette for the handsome man.” she smiled. The two said thank you and the waitress asked them to please let her know if she could get them anything else before she walked away.
“This is so good.” she said with in between bites.”Thank you again.”
They finished their meals and after another round of coffee, got back in his car. He started the engine and pulled out of the Denny’s parking lot as the Billy Joel tape clicked over to side B.
“Are we headed back home?”
“Yeah.” When he said this she turned to look out her window at the clear night sky. Several miles passed before she spoke again.
“Could we do this again sometime. You know, if you’re not too busy.
He smiled. “I would like that.”
They passed the section of road where the car with the flat tire was. The car was gone now, with no sign that it was ever there. The young man turned onto the final street and parked, this time backing into his spot. He turned the engine off and the two were left alone with only the silence between them. They could see that the lights of her house where off and all seemed still.
“Looks like it is safe for me to go back now.”
“You’re welcome to come inside to my place if you like.”
She looked at him. The scruff on his face, his brown eyes and dark hair. She smiled “I think, I think if this were another night, I would say yes. But I do have school in the morning and should try and at least get some sleep.”
“Alright.” He said, with a nod. “Well, how about I help you get back in your window.”
“Thank you.” She said. “By the way, what’s your name? Mine is Jill.”
“It’s Jack” He answered.
Jack and Jill, she thought to herself, and smiled.