***Part Seven***
Word Count: 2,157

June 1984

Dear Claire,

I've tried to call a couple of times, but you haven't been there when I did. I hung up before your machine picked up so that I wouldn't waste minutes on the phone card. I'm not good at writing letters. I had to buy a stamp from the woman at the office here so I can mail this to you.

Where to start?

I don't know.

I'm sorry?

You had to know deep down that inviting me was a bad idea for all concerned. I was willing to try, for your sake, but evidently Joe and his cohorts had other ideas.

And maybe that's why you're never home when I call. Maybe you are there, just not answering. I don't know. If that's the case. Well, then I guess I'm a fucking idiot for writing this letter. Never mind hauling my ass down here.

Obviously, because you're getting this, I made it down here all right. The cast on my arm sort of ruled out a roofing job, but I found something to at least get some money in my pocket for the time being. Once the cast comes off I have some things in the works.

Right now I'm working evenings at a liquor store from four until one, which is three to midnight your time. I suppose you know that already. I am usually home by two since I have to close up. Since I don't know when you're ever home and I frankly don't know if you're still talking to me since you haven't really talked to me since the night of Prom I'll give you my phone number here to my room. The walls are pretty thin and I don't have an answering machine, so if you call and I don't answer after three rings you can hang up.

Was I supposed to react different to Joe and his friends jumping me? I don't know. You haven't said you're mad at me, but I can't help but wonder what else it could be. I really did just defend myself. Well, and you. The things he said about you. Us. Whatever. Well, I couldn't just stand there and let him say those things and do nothing.

Anyway, I do love you and hope you get here soon. I know you can't get here any sooner than your move-in date allows you to, but I hope the time goes by fast. For both of us. There I wrote it down on paper so it's permanent. No take backs or anything, I guess. Of course, there's no guarantee I won't have second thoughts about mailing this on my way to work.

I hope to hear from you. I'll try calling tomorrow because I don't work in the evening so maybe I'll catch you in between doing whatever you do during the day and going out for the night. I hope you're having fun whatever you're doing.

Love,
John

He sealed up the envelope after writing his address and phone number at the bottom of the letter. He brought it to the office then.

"Hey, John."

"Hey, Beatrice. Can I give this to you to put with some outgoing mail?"

"You bet."

"Thanks," he said. "And whatever you do if I come back here and ask for it back don't give it to me."

She laughed a bit at that, which really sounded like more of a cackle as she exhaled the smoke from the drag she'd taken off her cigarette. He was almost positive she smoked up back here, too, but he'd never seen her so couldn't say.

As for him, he hadn't done that since moving down here. Not a long time or anything, but he really was trying to put all of the bad shit behind him with the move down here. A fresh start.

"Illinois, huh?"

"Yup," he said.

She wouldn't know that was where he was from as he'd taken a bus down here and bought a junker as soon as he'd had a job and a place to stay. He'd found out how much tags and stuff would cost before coming down here. The bus system wasn't near as good as it was back home, but he'd been prepared for that, too, and brought a bike down here Claire had given him. It'd been her brother's, who clearly wasn't using it anymore.

"Your air conditioner working all right?" she asked.

He scoffed at that. The air conditioner worked for about ten minutes and then quit for an hour and then would come back on, freezing the room to Popsicle status for another ten minutes before going out again.

"I take that as a no. You going to be around tomorrow?"

"Yeah, don't work so I should be."

"All right. I'll have Wren take a look at it."

"I'd appreciate it."

She was nice to him because he'd paid for a month up front. Unlike most of the clientele here that paid by the hour John was actually here to live. Most of the others who got rooms here from what John could decipher were here for drugs or sex. Sometimes, a lot of the times, both. She agreed to wash his sheets and towels twice a week. He assured her he could keep the rest of the room clean. She was just grateful, he was pretty sure to have one less room to worry about burning the place down for however long he was here.

The rent was cheap, though. He'd already gone to talk to the landscaper he'd spoken to before moving down. He assured him once the cast came off John could talk to him. The liquor store wasn't a great job, didn't pay much but all he had to do was check people out. He helped out stocking the bottles of liquor and wine, but he couldn't do a lot of the heavy lifting. Fine by him because as soon as the cast came off he was gone from there. He hated dealing with the public, having to be nice and smile for nine hours a night.

Since he was a genuine customer Beatrice and Wren, who owned the place together, tried not to rent out the room next to his unless they were full. That hadn't happened more than a couple of times so far, so he was grateful. The walls just weren't that thick. The drug use he didn't give a shit about, but listening to someone else getting laid when it'd been fucking months since he'd done anything was bordering on cruel and unusual.

The night she'd given him the blow job had been the last night anything like that had happened between them. He'd sort of assumed something would happen on prom night, but her friends had other plans for him. Almost three weeks later and he still couldn't believe he'd been so stupid as to not suspect, assume they'd do something. Her girlfriends, oddly, hadn't been so bad when they'd found out they were dating. The guys, though, man, they'd taken making his life a living hell the last month or so of school to a new level.

Only positive, Vernon had never found out.

"Is there a chance you're going to come back in here and ask me to give this back to you?"

"Possibly."

"How about I give it Wren then to take with him and drop at a box? He's heading out in about twenty minutes, I think."

"That would work. Thanks." He was about to sleep for a while before work, which she knew. He didn't sleep real well. Thin walls aside he was in a new room for the first time in his life. It was hot during the day and the air conditioning sucked. He'd bought a fan yesterday on his way to work and hoped that would help a bit. He was also getting used to a schedule other than school. Staying up until one or two in the morning wasn't unusually crazy for him, but his body was still used to waking up at six or so every day. So, naps after lunch were a thing for him.

"Sure. How's the arm?"

He shrugged. It sucked. It was sweaty and uncomfortable, but he'd manage because he was keeping focused on the fact he'd gotten out. Mostly intact. His mom had thrown a wrench into things a bit by showing for his graduation. He hadn't expected that. She was the reason he hadn't talked to Claire since the night of prom. Who knew she had it in her to worry and fret over him after so many years of doing a pretty good job of sucking as a mother?

Come home with a broken arm and beat to shit by someone not his father and she was all over him like the plague or something.

He'd assumed it would be Claire driving him down to the bus station after the ceremony when he originally had the idea of leaving right from the school. He hadn't thought it through, though, and taken into account things like her parents would give her a graduation party.

He'd debated about showing up, but he didn't want anyone to lay claim to seeing him after the actual ceremony. So, he'd ridden the bike she'd given him to the train station and gotten to the bus station downtown that way. He'd been shocked the locker he'd put his duffel in hadn't been jimmied open, but everything was intact.

It had been entirely too easy.

And in an odd sort of way, heartbreaking.

He'd left everything behind except some clothes and a few belongings that meant something to him. There weren't many, and that had sort of depressed him as he'd gotten his plan and things together over the months leading up to now.

"I'm looking forward to getting the cast off," he replied simply.

There was that laugh/cackle again.

"Say," she said, holding the letter up again.

"Yeah?"

"This the pretty girl you're in the picture with in your room?"

"Yeah," John said. He had a copy of a picture from their day at the zoo back in April on his nightstand by his bed. He supposed she'd seen it changing his sheets. They'd actually had a few others taken together over the month or so between that day and prom. He supposed she'd have a few good ones from before prom to at least look back on the night positively before they'd gotten to the actual dance.

"I'll make sure Wren drops it off first thing when he leaves."

"Thanks," he said.

"You bet. Our phones dial out, you know," she said, regarding him after another too-long perusal of the envelope.

"I've tried to call her, she's never around."

"Purposely?"

"I'm not sure," he said.

"The letter, huh?"

"Yup," he said. "Anyway, thanks," he said.

"Anytime, hun, you know that."

He did, too. She'd been pretty nice so far considering the motel they ran was barely one-step up from a roach motel. Their usual clientele weren't coming here for the ambiance or a comfortable stay.

He made his way across the parking lot to his room. It was already hotter than he was used to and it was only the end of June. He guessed he was in for a rude awakening the next couple of months before she got down here.

Assuming he'd see her when she got down here. Wouldn't that be ironic? She'd been worried he'd move down here and regret it, which was one of the reasons nothing happened between them but the one night. Here he was, regretting nothing, and not at all sure if he was going to see her when she got down here in two months' time.

He tried to convince himself she couldn't possibly be mad at him. He didn't pick the fight. He didn't jump the guys. She was, though, a woman and they weren't always rational when it came to things. Her night had been ruined and he wasn't sure she'd be able to see things clearly enough to cast the blame where it belonged instead of at his feet because he was the common denominator of the problem.

If he ever saw Joe away from a school function and not in a tuxedo he'd spent a couple hundred dollars to rentů Not that that was every going to happen.

He kicked off his shoes, chuckling softly at the fact the air conditioner seemed to be working at the moment. He still turned the fan on because his luck it'd quit midway through his nap and he'd wake up needing another shower.

She should get the letter by the end of the week he imagined, so hopefully she'd call over the weekend. It was cheaper to call on weekends so they could talk as long as they wanted. He hoped that's how it would go anyway.

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