This is the third installment of my short story. I always had a soft spot for authors like Hemingway and Bradbury. Their writing always felt soft and vivid, like an overexposed photograph. That’s what drew me to the medium, I think-being able to craft such a dizzying array of feelings just with words. If you enjoy this story, please consider visiting the funding campaign for my novel, “Steel in the Blood”, the first of a planned series. Every backer gets to be a part of the journey and take an active role in the publishing process and gets exclusive insights into my experience and the shape of my publishing journey. I would love to have you along!
All Those Perfect Moments 3/3
The perfect instant was shattered by a balled up empty bag of popcorn. The two in the front seat laughed, and he laughed with them, completely uncaring because the moment was still perfect. Nothing could change it now. Duncan handed him some money and told him the price of gas was popcorn duty. He grinned and threw the empty bag back at Duncan. Nancy leaned forward to return the use of his arm, smiling as she smoothed a curl of hair back behind her ear. His smile grew wider, elated, then turned to open the door.
Back at the concession stand. There was another boy there waiting for the attendant, the reassuring sign still in place. The other boy’s costume had little lights embedded in it, flickering and moving down the seams of his short cut jacket like lines of glowing ants. As David moved to the counter and the waiting bags of popcorn, the other cupped the palm of one hand in the other, his thumb tapping repeatedly at his palm. David asked him if he was ok. The boy looked up at him, frowning. “Yeah its just there’s no reception here. Must have lost a relay or something.” David nodded but must have looked confused. The boy regarded him for a moment. “I mean you have a phone right?” David nodded more directly, understanding. “Yeah, but I don’t have a signal either.” David slapped a few bills down on the counter and took a handful of the popcorn in his mouth. Even though they’d eaten the other two bags, he was still hungry. He began to turn back towards his parking spot. Nancy was waiting for him back at the pickup; maybe she’d let him put her arm around him. He checked his watch; still fifteen minutes until show time. He tossed a piece of popcorn into the air, catching it perfectly in his open mouth. He spoke to the other boy around the popcorn as he turned to walk back.
“Better get back, movie’s about to start.”
The state trooper held his hat in one hand, his face dipped to the steaming cup of coffee as gently blew ripples across its surface. He sipped gingerly and made an appreciative noise across the table. He set his hat on the worn plush of the sofa and cupped one hand around the mug. The fingers of his other hand danced around the rim as if to draw attention away from the fact that he hadn’t answered the question.
“Look, ma’am, please understand that we feel for you. If there was more to do, we would do it. You got my word on that.” The woman’s hand closed around her husband’s, knuckles white in pale light that filtered through the picture window.
“But you said you could find them. I just want him back.”
“Ma’am, I always told you it was possible. Not certain.” He sighed. “If they’d gone off the road somewhere, we would know by now. But we are past the first window. We gotta call off the emergency services, but that doesn’t mean we’re giving up.” He ran his hand through his thinning brown hair, widow’s peak momentarily highlighted as he pulled the loose curls straight. “And I know you don’t want to hear this either but… Thing is, sometimes kids run off.”
“I know my son, Officer. He’s not one to be out all night, let alone run off. He’s going to college. Alabama State.” Her grip on her voice cracked. “You have to find him.”
The trooper set his coffee cup down on the table and set both hands on his knees, eyes on the round white ceramic. He took a deep breath and folded them in his lap.
“Please. I know this is hard to hear. But I did the looking, I did the research. While the teams were out along the roads and running the dogs, looked for anything else that could explain it.” He paused for breath and the woman across the table opened her mouth to speak. He held up one palm beseechingly. “Please, I know. I know. But kids run away from this town. It’s happened before, missing persons reports popping up every few years or so. They run off, only explanation.” His hand moved towards his head again and stopped. He picked up his hat. “I know you live here and this is home. But Pleasant ain’t the kind of town that you want to spend your whole life in as a youngster. You say your boy was going to college. Most kids get out after they graduate high school, but some can’t wait that long. All I can tell you is that we will keep the case open and keep looking, and the minute we know or hear something we’ll call you.” He made a point to look her in the eyes. “I promise you that. But I can’t promise you when that’ll be.”
A long pause. The husband spoke. “All right, Frank. I… We understand.” His lips barely moved. The trooper got up, coffee still steaming on the table, and they followed him to the door. His partner waited for him, leaning on the hood of the car.
“That didn’t take long.”
“No. No I figured it wouldn’t. Last one, too.” He sighed.
“Yeah. What is it with these little towns anyways? They always plan this shit to happen at the same time?”
The trooper gave a wry smile to his partner. “Listen city-slicker, these towns ain’t really that far apart for the country. Everyone knows everyone else. They probably had this planned, gonna go live in some commune in California or whatever.”
“Commune in California? Jesus you’re old. This isn’t the 60s.” The partner grinned.
“Shut up and get in. Time to hang it up for the day.”
The black and white cruiser’s tires crunched on the gravel of the driveway as the car pulled around, rubber finding purchase on pavement as the sound of the engine faded, along with the car and the two men in it, into the distance. Pleasant watched them go, steadfast and immutable there between the highways and in the seams between the hills.