Crumbling Walls Chapters 4 and 5

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We have posted chapters 1, 2, and 3 of our book Crumbling Walls. Here are chapters 4 and 5. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Chapter 4

 

 

 

 

 

A week or two later Jack deposited Emily at her front gate, but didn’t leave as usual. “Can I ask a question?”

 

“Sure.”

 

“It’s still a few weeks away, but would you maybe like to go to Homecoming with me? I mean, I know it’s a silly dance but …”

 

Trailing off, he let the sentence hang there between them, shaded in nervousness, until Emily moved back towards him, standing closer than she normally would, “I’d love to, but I don’t think I can.”

 

“Oh. Okay.”

 

“It’s not that I don’t want to go with you. I just don’t have the money.”

 

He nodded, trying not to show his disappointment, “It’s okay. I just thought I’d ask.”

 

Tilting her head slightly so she could look him in the eye, desperately wanting to alleviate his saddened look, “If I could find the money, I’d go … in a heartbeat. But given I don’t have a dress, tickets or anything else, I don’t see a way around it.”

 

“You can’t ask your mom?”

 

She just shook her head, “I’m sorry.”

 

He continued to stand there for a few moments, thinking fast, until a grin spread across his face, “Well, are you working that night?”

 

“I assume until eight, like usual.”

 

“Okay, how ‘bout I take you out for an extremely cheap dinner after work, then maybe I can take you to the really cheap dollar show and we can watch really bad movies for as long as we can stand it?”

 

Not sure if there was sarcasm hovering somewhere in there, “Huh?”

 

Taking her hand and playing with the fingers, “I just want to spend the night out with you without worrying about school or anything else but having fun. And since I’m still unemployed, cheap is all I can really afford at the moment, too.”

 

“I can pay for myself you know.”

 

“Not on this date, girl. I’m going to give you the red carpet treatment for under 20 bucks.”

 

Taken aback by his wording, “A date?”

 

His lips curled slightly at the edges, his eyes lighting up, “Well, we should probably go on one eventually. Might as well get it out of the way.”

 

And with that, she moved closer and kissed him on the cheek, “How ‘bout I get out of work at seven-thirty?”

 

▪▪▪

 

In the interim before their date, Emily was assigned a project in art class; draw a classmate. With stipulations of course: use a medium not familiar to them, must be done outside the confines of the classroom, must not be posed and each person must work at least 3 hours.

 

Tim, of course, got the same project and given the two were friends, they chose to draw each other. Asking her after class, “When do you want to get this started?”

 

“I work until eight all week.”

 

“What about the weekend?”

 

“I’m free Saturday morning and most of Sunday.”

 

“Well, I have to work until seven-thirty Friday, so we could meet about eight-fifteen and start then, maybe?”

 

She nodded, “Your house?”

 

“Well, my house would probably be easiest. I can’t imagine your mom would want you to have a guy at your place without her home.” Her look of confusion made him smile, “Jack mentioned your mom works late.”

 

“Oh, yeah. Forgot. Sorry.”

 

“S’okay.” As they made their way out of the classroom, Tim asked “So, any idea what you’ll work in?”

 

“I’ve always wanted to try my hand at pen and ink but I think the size requirements will slow me down so I guess I’ll see how I do in pastels. I rarely touch those. You?”

 

“I was thinking either charcoals or crayon.”

 

“Crayon? As in Crayola?”

 

“Mmm-hmm. Never did a picture in those before.”

 

She laughed outright at this, “I’m gonna be rendered in crayon. How cool is that?”

 

“Very.”

 

▪▪▪

 

That Friday night, Jack, for a change, which he pointed out to Emily, walked her back to his house instead of her own. “You seem awfully tired. I’m sure Tim’ll understand if you don’t want to do this now.”

With another yawn, “Well, it’s due next Monday and I’m drawing him tomorrow so this is all we’ve got. I’ll be fine.”

 

“Well, at least you don’t have to deal with most of the posse tonight. Three of the four are at a camp out/birthday party kind of thing, so it’s only Mom, Dad and Sam tonight.”

 

“I don’t know that I’ve ever managed to see you all together. I’m gonna begin to wonder if there really are that many of you or you just make them up for sympathy sake.”

 

“No one could ever concoct these people out of thin air, trust me.”

 

Finally making their way inside, Mrs. Callaghan came down the hall, wiping her hands on a dish towel, “Hi. You must be Emily. Nice to finally meet you.”

 

Holding out her hand, “You too ma’am.”

 

With a smile, she gave a firm handshake, “Please call me Elizabeth. Ma’am reminds me that I do indeed have six children running rampant in the world.”

 

“Yes ma’am … I mean, Elizabeth.”

 

“Very good.” Turning to Jack, “If either of you are hungry, the leftovers are in the fridge. Tim’s in the living room, probably already finished and licking his plate hoping for more. Your dad and me’ll be upstairs keeping Sam out of your hair.”

 

And then she was gone, running up the stairs yelling, “If you started that movie without me, there’s going to be tickling involved.”

 

“I think I like your mom.”

 

As Jack walked her into the kitchen, “Yeah, I think I do too.”

 

▪▪▪

 

Moving to the living room, she asked Tim, who was indeed nearly licking his plate, “So, where do you want me?”

 

“Anywhere I guess. What would you normally be doing if you weren’t here?”

 

“Probably sitting on my couch, doing my homework.”

 

“Then why don’t you do that. You won’t be moving too much and you can still get something done.”

 

Jack immediately went to retrieve their book bags from the front hall, dumping them on the coffee table, “Might as well get some of my own stuff done.”

 

As the pair dug up the proper books and settled in, Tim sat himself against the wall, a brand new box of 128 Crayola crayons on the floor beside him and a piece of laminated counter top on his lap, “Found it years ago in the garage. Perfect size for holding paper.”

 

Before cracking her history book, “I’ve got an old slab of Formica I found in the trash one day. It’s a bit awkward, but it’ll do for now.”

 

“Well, ignore me and try not to move too much, but talking’s fine.” Taking up his first crayon, “Here we go.”

 

▪▪▪

 

At first he was having some trouble with the picture, but about twenty minutes later, an odd thing happened.

 

Emily fell asleep.

 

She was sitting beside Jack and the combined warmth of him and the quiet of the house took its toll. First her eyes began to get heavier, then her head tilted to the side and finally, she leaned a little more, resting her head on Jack’s shoulder. From there, she was out in a matter of seconds.

 

Tim finally saw his picture. Whispering to Jack, “Don’t wake her up.”

 

Jack, in his own glorious heaven at the moment, “Are you kidding? I’m not going to breathe if I can help it.”

 

Giving his brother a grin, Tim moved to a new sheet of paper and began working quickly and confidently.

 

He worked diligently for the next two hours while she slept peacefully on his brother’s arm. Jack, in turn, took his own nap, head resting gently on hers.

 

Eventually, Tim’s hand cramped up and his neck screamed for movement. Sitting back, he studied his paper with extreme satisfaction, only looking up when Jack asked quietly, “Can I see it?”

 

“Nope. Not until after class. You know nobody sees my stuff early.”

 

“Like that's ever gonna stop me from asking.”

 

“I’m just gonna run this upstairs.” Gathering up the worn down crayons, “Think we should wake her up?”

 

Pushing a fallen piece of hair from her cheek, “I hate to, but I probably should.” Gently tapping her cheek, “Emily? Hey, Em, time to wake up.”

 

Tim left him to the task and went to stash his supplies upstairs. Coming back into the living room, he found Emily squinting at his brother in confusion, “Jack?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Did I fall asleep?”

 

As she sat up, he was able to shift, get off the couch and finally stretch his arm out, “For a couple of hours actually. It’s about ten-thirty.”

 

She sat bolt upright, “What about Tim’s picture? Why didn’t you wake me up?”

 

Tim picked up one of his stray crayons, “I’m all done. Well, mostly done. I’ll do the finishing touches tomorrow or Sunday.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to fall asleep.” Letting off a yawn that nearly split her head in two, “The picture’s okay though?”

 

Tim nodded as he slipped his coat on, “More than okay, trust me.”

 

Jack grinned at him, “You going out?”

 

“Yeah. I called Sarah while I was upstairs to let her know I was done. I’m gonna go get her and maybe see a late movie.”

 

Emily looked at him with interest, “Sarah Wheaton? When did that happen?”

 

Heading out of the living room, “’Bout two minutes ago. She finally said yes.”

 

Emily shook her head with a smile, “How long’s he been working on her?”

 

“Since our first day.”

 

“Wow, most guys would have given up by now.”

 

“You’ve gotta know Tim though. He’s a persistent pain in the ass when he wants to be.”

 

“Are there any Callaghan’s who aren’t persistent?”

 

“Not that I know of.” Moving to stand in front of her, “So, we have a few choices. We can do some more homework, I can walk you home or we can watch a movie or some TV?”

 

“What do you want to do?”

 

“Well, I don’t want to do any homework and I definitely don’t want you to go home, so how ‘bout we dig us up a movie and make some popcorn?”

 

Hoping he would decide that, she kept her happiness in check, “Works for me.”

 

“Then why don’t you find us something to watch while I get the food and tell Ma and Dad we’re staying here for awhile.”

 

Looking around dumbly, “And I would look for movies where?”

 

“The door on the side of the TV.” After he left, she got up and opened the correct door. She was immediately engrossed in reading titles and examining covers. Jack came back about five minutes later, a large bowl of popcorn in his hands, “What’re we watching?”

 

“I have no idea. I’m still in shock at how many you have.”

 

Sitting the bowl down, then dropping next to her, “Are you reading each one?”

 

With a nod, “Yeah. How else will I know what they’re about?”

 

“You mean you haven’t seen any of these?”

 

Emily shook her head, slightly embarrassed at this point, “I don’t have a TV or a DVD player.”

 

Now Jack was just shocked, “Are you serious?”

 

After shrugging, she changed the subject, “Which one will I enjoy?”

 

Knowing when to follow a topic change, he went along, “Well, do you like being scared but in a sciency, serial killer kind of way?”

 

“I have no idea.”

 

Pulling out a box from the bottom of the shelves, “I think it may be time to introduce you to a little something we like to call the best scary show on TV. Or, at least used to be on TV.” Holding up a DVD, “The X-Files.”

 

“Am I going to wake up screaming?”

 

“Hope not, but if you do, call me up and I’ll come chase away the monsters.” Finally standing and turning off the living room light, “I may be forced to show up in my pajamas and beat them away with a Mag-Lite, but I’ll be there nonetheless.”

 

As both settled down on the couch in the now partially lit room, the bowl of popcorn between them, “Thanks.”

 

With a grin, he hit the play button, “Welcome.”

 

▪▪▪

 

Jack walked her to her front door for the first time that evening. Usually it was a garden gate drop off, but given it was after dark, he followed her to the door.

 

“So, when are you gonna show me some more of those?”

 

Jack laughed, “Hooked after one episode. That’s gotta be a record.”

 

“What can I say? I love a good bowl of free popcorn.”

 

Sliding his fingers into hers, “You’re coming back over tomorrow morning right?”

 

“Yup. Eight o’clock ... Tim has to be at work by noon so that’ll give me plenty of time.”

 

“Then I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 

At this point, he should have left the porch, but he didn’t and Emily should have made him go, but she didn’t. Instead they stood there, just holding hands for a minute or two until Emily asked, “Was I okay while I was asleep?”

 

Seeing the worry suddenly cloud her face, “What do you mean?”

 

“Did I, um, say anything or do anything while I was asleep?”

 

“You mean during your nap? No, why? Do you sleep walk or something?”

 

As a flood of relief washed over her, “Something like that.”

He wanted to ask more, but opted not to, “I should really go.”

 

“Yeah, probably.” But instead of turning, she came closer and kissed him once again on the cheek, “I’ll see you in the morning.”

 

▪▪▪

 

The next morning she arrived bright and early, beat-up tackle box in tow and board under her arm. Tim answered, rubbing his head and yawning, “Come on in. Let me just brush my teeth and we can start.”

 

Emily was then left to awkwardly stand in the front hall, alone and wondering if she should just wait or head into the living room. She also wondered where Jack might be, but Tim came back from the bathroom by then, “Well, where would you like me?”

 

“I guess I’ll ask you what you asked me. What would you be doing right now if I wasn’t here?”

 

“Given that my manager called and asked if I could work tomorrow, I’d probably be working on finishing up my picture of you.”

 

“Then go get it and I’ll draw you drawing.”

 

Tim’s face lit up, “Cool. Kill two birds with one stone kind of thing. Back in a second.”

 

Retrieving the picture from his room, they were soon both settled on the floor, Emily hunkered on the old sheet she’d brought with her to control the pastel vs. carpet issue while Tim sat on the floor, his board propped up on a pile of old books.

 

So intent on the task at hand were they that neither heard Jack shuffle into the kitchen. He even stood in the archway for several minutes watching the pair of them work, wondering if he should bother them at all. Opting not to, he instead grabbed a banana and an apple and went back to his room.

 

Tim soon finished his drawing, but given Emily seemed to be going strong, he quietly switched to a new piece of paper. With his favorite nub of a pencil he began a series of rough sketches of her, particularly her expressions, which changed with every passing moment. Her arched eyebrow, her furrowed forehead and the best one, in his opinion, her darting tongue. In moments of total concentration, it sneaked its way out of the corner of her mouth, the tip of it wiggling as she chewed, lost in her pastel world. He had to keep from smiling about it, but once, he slipped, just as she looked up at him, “Why are you smiling?”

 

“What? A guy needs a reason to smile now?”

 

“My tongue was hanging out, wasn't it?”

 

Grinning even wider, “How does that thing not dry out, flapping there all the time?”

 

“It does, at times.” Sticking it out further in his direction, “Now go back to your picture. I've only got another half-hour to finish this.”

 

Already planning on drawing her at least another dozen times, he settled back against the couch, “Yes, ma'am.”

 

▪▪▪

 

The magic of the quiet living room was broken around eleven o’clock when the rest of the boys came home, tumbling through the door with shouts and yells.

 

Barely seconds before the boys reached them, Emily managed to save her picture from the onslaught of feet by holding the board above her head. Tim mirrored her action after slipping all his drawings into the pad of paper and shutting them in safely.

 

Tim called over the din, “Whoa guys. Precious homework here. Watch it.”

 

The boys slowed down, finally realizing Emily was grinning in the corner, old board held high, “Sorry Emily.”

 

“S’okay. Just watch the supplies, please.”

 

The kids looked down and gingerly stepped away from the sheet, “Where’re Mom and Dad?”

 

Tim shrugged, “Not sure. I know they left early this morning with Sam. I think they were going grocery shopping or something.”

 

“Well, we’re gonna go to the park, okay? We’ll be back by three. Dave’s got a watch.”

 

Waving them away, “Just be careful. And hey, take something to eat with you. I know Mom just bought a huge box of granola bars.”

 

Already heading back out of the room, “Okay.”

 

Once the room had returned to its original state of peace and quiet, “You all right over there?”

 

She smiled, “Yeah. Just kind of shell-shocked, I guess you’d say.”

 

“Yeah, it tends to happen to new people.”

 

Jack’s voice drifted from the kitchen, “This was nothing compared to what a meal looks like.” Coming into the living room, “Speaking of which, anybody hungry for lunch?”

 

Her stomach growled her answer, “A little.”

 

“Then come on in. I was gonna cook some Mac and Cheese. You want any, Tim?”

 

Looking at his watch, “No, but thanks. I’ve gotta go get ready for work.” Trying to look around Emily’s shoulder as he walked by, “Do I get a peek?”

 

“Nope. Grand unveiling in class.”

 

“You are so not fun.”

 

“Do I get to see yours?”

 

Stuffing his hands in his pockets, he left the room whistling, “See you Monday in class.”

 

▪▪▪

While they were eating their way through their lunch, “Um, Jack?”

 

“Yeah?” as a noodle hung from his chin.

 

Reaching over and tapping it so it fell back in the bowl, “Why didn’t you come down while Tim and I were working?”

 

“I actually did, but both of you looked so serious and focused I wasn’t about to interrupt, so I went back upstairs and did some homework. Once the others got home though, I figured you wouldn’t be able to concentrate anymore, so I came down.”


”For a second there, I thought you had forgotten I was here.”

 

“Forget you? Are you kidding?” Without stopping himself, “I haven’t forgotten about you for a minute since I faked that flat tire.”

 

Well, that little secret jumped right out in the open didn’t it?

 

And Emily couldn’t help the smile that spread from ear to ear, “I knew there wasn’t anything wrong with that tire.”

 

“How?”

 

“”Cause you rode right away on it without ever checking it again.”

 

Looking rather sheepish, “Well, it was the only way I could think of to stop in front of the house.”

 

“You could just as easily have quit pedaling and said hello instead of taking out half a flat of snapdragons in the process.”

 

Collecting their now empty bowls and putting them in the dishwasher, “My idea seemed better at the time.”

 

She just shook her head, “Well, next time you want to talk to a girl, just say hi. Works surprisingly well.”

 

He was going to reply with something suave and cool, but was interrupted by the front door opening and Sam rushing headlong into the bathroom. His parents came into the kitchen a moment later … and for the first time, Emily laid eyes on Jack’s dad.

 

It was all she could do to keep the macaroni in her stomach.

 

▪▪▪

 

Jack saw her cringe and pale immediately. Luckily, his parents hit the fridge looking for lunch after Mr. Callaghan shook her hand, so Jack called a quick good-bye and mumbled something about walking Emily home. He then steered her towards the front door, grabbing her supplies as he passed them.

 

Once on the porch with the door safely pulled shut behind them, “Are you okay?”

 

By now, Emily had come back to reality and, though covered in a thin sheen of sweat, seemed calmer, “Yeah, I just don’t think the food is sitting very well.”

 

Almost positive she was lying, he chose to let it slide, walking home next to her slowly and delivering her at the front gate as usual. “You’re really sure you’re all right? You seemed fine until my parents walked in.”

 

With a nod, “Maybe I just woke up too early or didn’t get enough sleep last night.”

 

“If you say so.” Leaning forward, he kissed her forehead, “Call me if you need anything, okay?”

 

“I’ll be fine.”

 

“Then I’ll see you tomorrow or Monday okay? I have to go to some family picnic at Dad’s work tomorrow and I don’t know when I’ll be back.”

 

Remembering him mentioning it, “Okay. Have fun.”

 

Still more than a little worried about her, “I’ll try.”

 

▪▪▪

 

He didn’t mention anything about what happened to anyone. After a day of thinking about it, he had nearly managed to convince himself it really was the whole food, getting up early, staying out late combo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 5

 

 

 

 

 

On Monday morning, Tim made it to class just in time for the bell and slid into the chair beside her, “One of these days, the mob at senior rail is gonna make me late.”

 

“You’re a senior.”

 

“Doesn’t mean they don’t need to get the hell away from me. And I still don’t understand why the seniors need some place to hang out during school. Just use the hall like normal people.”

 

With a shrug, “Who knows? Apparently it’s been tradition for decades and who’s gonna mess with tradition?”

 

“Still annoys the piss out of me.”

 

Class started then, so Tim’s rant ended early as they both turned towards the talking teacher, “So, everybody ready to do the unveiling?”

 

Their pictures were already sitting in a pile on the front table and, two by two, she picked them up, propped them against the chalkboard, turned and stepped back to let the critiquing begin.

 

Most were good, some were better than good, but then, “I decided to save these two for last. Honest opinions folks. Don’t hold back.”

 

Turning the last two, the class stared in silence until, “Damn, couldn’t either of you at least fake some inconsistencies so the rest of us don’t look like simplistic freaks who accidentally landed in an art class through a scheduling mishap?” Tim turned a beet-red color as he took a quick glance at his heckler. It turned out to be Jim wearing a big grin, “Just kidding, man.”

 

Ms. Tassleman looked over the class with a small smile, “Anything?”

 

It was then the questions started to flow until just before the end of class, “Tim, did you add yourself in later?”

 

“Huh?”

 

“How are you in the picture with Emily?”

 

He grinned, “That’s not me. It’s my brother, Jack. All us kids look the same.”

 

Jim, with his usual timing, “Damn, no kidding.”

 

The bell rang and everybody but Emily stood, gathering their things. She in turn just sat, staring at the pictures still leaning on the wall.

 

“Hey, you okay?”

 

She hadn’t said much during class, answering the questions she was asked quickly and quietly. Even now, she was still answering in a daze, “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Then why do you look like the pod people got you?”

 

Not even hearing the comment, “Do I really look like that?”

 

Tim looked from her to the picture and back to her in confusion, “What do you mean?”

 

Grabbing her bag, she moved to stand in front of the picture of herself, “Do I really look like that?”

 

On the paper, there sat a girl, eyes shut, head leaning against Jack’s shoulder. The lips were slightly apart and one small strand of stray hair had fallen across her face. Her hand was lying against Jack’s thigh and Jack himself was asleep as well, his fingers entwined ever so slightly with hers. For lack of a better word, she looked beautiful and peaceful and completely content with the world.

 

When Tim didn’t answer, she asked again quietly, “Is that how you see me?”

 

“It’s how everybody sees you, Em. Don’t you ever look in the mirror?”

 

With a shake of her head to clear the fog, she turned towards the door, “But that’s not what I see.” Not wanting her to walk away yet, he reached out to grab her elbow and stop her. With that motion, Emily came crashing back to the real world and jerked her arm back, “I’m gonna be late.”

 

Ms. Tassleman came back through the door just as Emily was leaving and nearly knocked into her. Looking confused, she spotted Tim still in the room, “Need anything?”

 

He stayed by the pictures, “Can I ask you something?”

 

Coming to stand next to him, “Sure.”

 

“Do you think it looks like Emily?”

 

“Are you kidding? It’s a near dead ringer. Why?”

 

“She just asked if she really looked like that and I told her yeah. Then she said ‘that’s not what I see’. I just wanted to make sure I was seeing her the way everybody else did.”

 

Ms. Tassleman stood staring at the two pictures for a moment before responding, “You have to remember, she’s 15. Most girls at that age see themselves as ugly, unattractive and probably hideous individuals. Maybe you’re the first person to show her she really is beautiful.” He shrugged his response, still contemplating and she continued, “I’ll also say this. I’ve had her in classes for three years now and I have never, ever seen her so relaxed. She’s usually guarded and wound tight but here, well, it’s just nice to know that she can take a break.”

 

He nodded, “She had me worried for a minute.”

 

Patting him on the arm, “That just means you’re her friend and that’s a very good thing.”

 

They stared a few more seconds at the side by side images, then, “I hate to ask, but do you think I could get a pass to my next class? The bell rang like five minutes ago.”

 

With a smile, “Of course.”

 

▪▪▪

 

The rest of the week passed quietly, Jack still having a stray thought every now and then about what had happened with Emily the previous Saturday, but by Wednesday, those thoughts were crowded out by their upcoming Friday night date.

 

He showed up on time and, ringing her doorbell, it occurred to him he had never had to do that before. Usually she was waiting outside already, either leaning on the porch post or sitting on the steps. Feeling suddenly rather grown up, he stood a little straighter and made sure the flowers in his hands weren’t falling out of their tie. But, as usual, when the door opened, he forgot the world completely.

 

Now, usually boys get bowled over by the appearance of their dates in gorgeous dresses and heels, their hair done perfectly, make-up flawless and jewelry sparkling. Jack was done completely in by Emily opening the door dressed in a pair of jeans, her black boots, remarkably scuff free for the first time ever, and a simple burgundy sweater that nearly matched her hair.

 

Holding out the flowers to her, he opened his mouth like a fish a few times before the words came, “Hi.”

 

She took them with a smile, “Hi.” Aiming those sparkling green eyes of hers at him, “Let me just run these upstairs.” Back next to him before he could get his brain working again, she pulled her coat on, “Thanks for the flowers. They smell wonderful.”

 

Since it was a date, he decided he'd better get in as much hand holding as possible and sliding his fingers into hers, “Hungry?”

“Starving, but I’ve only got ten dollars on me, so we’re gonna have to go real cheap.”

 

Waving his wallet in the air for a second, “Dad took pity on my allowance and slipped me another 20, so tonight, everything’s on me.”

 

“I said I could pay for myself Jack.”

 

“I know you can. And I recall saying that I wasn’t going to let you, not tonight.” And with a smile that made her melt, “But I might let you buy the popcorn … maybe … if you’re nice to me.”

 

“Define nice.”

 

Squeezing her thumb, “Right now.”

 

▪▪▪

 

Dinner was eaten at an extraordinary place called Fred’s Diner. And, unlike most girls Jack had heard Tim and other guys talk about, Emily ate like a horse. Yes, there was salad involved, but also a hot dog, fries, a chocolate shake and Opa cheese.

 

As he watched her pack all this into her remarkably small body, “Are you sure they feed you at home?”

 

Looking across her plate at him, she wiggled her eyebrows, “I offered to pay, remember?”

 

He laughed, “Eat some more if you must. We’re still working on my dad’s cash.”

 

After slurping the last of her ice cream, she sat back and stared around the mostly empty diner, “Is it wrong I kind of like it in here without all the people?”

 

“It's a lot quieter if nothing else. Nice not to have some three-year-old bouncing on the booth behind me.”

 

“We could just stay here all night if you’d like?”

Pulling out his wallet, “No way. You’re not getting out of buying me that industrial size tub of popcorn.”

 

▪▪▪

 

Making it to the dollar show by nine, they found two movies starting at the same time, both of which Jack wanted to see. “Which sounds better to you?”

 

Emily, to be honest, had never heard of either one and told him this. He then explained a bit of each plot, and asked again, “Which one would you prefer?”

 

“Well, what time do you have to be home tonight? We could always just stay for both?” Pointing to the schedule, “We could watch this one, then head right into the other theater to catch the replay of the other.”

 

“I love how your mind works.” Pulling out his phone after paying for the first round of tickets, he called his mom, “Is it okay if I’m probably not back until around one or so? There’re two movies playing that we want to see.” After listening for a second, “Yeah, I’ll make sure she gets home safe, promise. I’ll even wait until she locks the door.”

 

Hanging up a minute later, he turned to her, “I honestly think she could care less about me, but she was all about making sure you were gonna get home okay.”

 

“You know she loves you.”

 

“Oh, I know. I’m just amused, that’s all.” Motioning ahead of him and holding the door, “After you.”

 

▪▪▪

 

Movies watched and popcorn consumed, they found themselves back on her porch a little before one o’clock on Saturday morning. “I think we may actually be out later than some of the people at the dance.”

 

“And we did it cheaper and in more comfortable clothes.”

 

Jack took a step closer to her, “That reminds me, did I tell you just how beautiful you look tonight?”

 

Wanting so badly to stand that close to him, her panic still overtook her, and she stepped back, “No you didn’t.”

 

Fighting the urge to follow, he stayed where he was, “Well, you look absolutely perfect tonight and I’m not just saying that ‘cause you bought me junk food.”

 

With a smile, “But if it helped, I may buy you some more.”

 

“Then would it be alright if I asked you out next Friday? Maybe we can watch a few more X-Files or something?”

 

Hoping the darkness would keep him from noticing her blanch, “At your house?”

 

“Well, that is where we keep the TV. The kids’ll probably watch with us if that’s okay?”

 

She breathed out slowly, “Your parents won’t mind?”

 

“Nah. Dad’s out of town anyway and Mom’ll watch with us, too.”

 

The world suddenly righted itself again, “Your mom watches?”

 

“Who do you think showed us our first episodes?”

 

▪▪▪

 

Fridays in Jack’s living room became the norm for Emily. She enjoyed having the younger boys around her and Elizabeth made it even more fun by really getting into the episodes, turning off all the lights and grabbing her children at just the right scary moment to make them yelp in terrified glee. Mr. Callaghan never joined them though, choosing instead to read upstairs.

 

Elizabeth said he didn’t get much time to get through his books, but Jack just laughed, “Come on, Mom. You know the show gives him the willies.”

She gave her son a serious-eyed stare, “Just make sure not to rib him about it, okay?”

 

“’Course. I’m not that evil.”

 

Emily was about to ask what exactly gave him the willies, but Jack gave her a look that plainly said, ‘I’ll tell you later.’

 

One night, after everyone had trooped upstairs for bed and Jack was about to walk Emily home, she stopped him while still on the couch, “What scares your dad?”

 

Jack could only shrug, “Not really sure. He watched the first few episodes, but once Skinner showed up, he stopped watching. Said he'd rather read. I guess maybe the guy who plays him reminds him of somebody. I asked once and he just told me the show was a little too disgusting for him.”

 

Mr. Callaghan’s voice drifted in from the kitchen, “Are you telling lies about me again, boy?”

 

Calling back to him, “Of course I am. What else are dads there for?”

 

He came into the living room, cup of tea in his hand and looked at Emily, “Don’t listen to a word he says. I’m perfect and it just kills him.”

 

This was the first time since the kitchen, weeks ago, that Emily had actually seen Jack’s dad. On Fridays, he was usually at work until after they had started the shows and he always yelled hello from the front hall, going immediately upstairs. Now he was approximately six feet from them and Emily felt as if she had a vice wrapped around her throat. Air wouldn’t move into her lungs and she thought they were going to explode. He looked just like he did in her nightmares and forcing herself with every ounce of strength, she sat stock still, nodding in the proper places but never looking him in the eye.

 

Finally, he left and Emily stood quickly, “I should probably get going.”

 

“Let me just find my shoes and I’ll walk you home.”

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