(written 11/15/2010 - total words 36,657)
It was several days before they were able to get away to Comic Conclave. Cal and Oscar claimed they had an extra shift at work. It wasn’t that big of a deal for Cal, as his mom was at work. Having a work shift on the calendar would be good evidence if there was a problem though. Oscar’s dad was back, so he really needed the excuse. Angel, for some reason, seemed able to get out whenever she wanted.
Waiting for his pretend shift to start was torture for Cal. Even his excitement over picking up Angel on his scooter was starting to wane. He had the extra helmet and gloves packed and ready after fussing over it for twenty minutes. Now he sat on the couch, watching some mindless reality show on the TV. The election was in a few weeks, so the commercial spots were full of catty attack ads, mostly against Mayor Grant. It seemed to be a huge waste of time as the mayor was very popular. His main competitor, a slick, former attorney just came across like an arrogant bully. Cal didn’t trust the guy. He just seemed a little too well polished.
He looked at the clock. An hour and a half before Oscar could reasonably leave his house. They wanted to choose a time that wouldn’t be suspicious, but this was ridiculous. Another political ad came on, and Cal muted the TV. This time it was the mayor defending his record. Cal went to the kitchen to get something to eat or drink. Something to quell the boredom.
The fridge offered no solution. Mostly condiments, and a few things that had grown a bit scary. He grabbed a Mountain Dew and headed back down to the den. He watched a bit of the show standing up, then decided to turn off the TV. Maybe he should work on his Precalculus some more. Even homework was better than TV.
He went down to his room and started reading. Parts were really starting to make sense. Unfortunately those parts were from two weeks ago, and he’d already stumbled through them on a quiz.
His phone bleeped. He pulled it out of his pocket, glancing at the time. Still over an hour. He hoped it was Oscar saying he was leaving early.
It was even better.
BORED, WANNA COME OVER EARLY? Angel texted.
Cal slammed his math textbook closed.
ON MY WAY, he sent.
He guzzled the rest of his Mountain Dew and was out the door, head swimming, belly fluttery.
* * *
He felt insecure and awkward walking up to Angel’s house. He felt like the whole neighborhood was watching him and seeing him for the dork that he felt like.
Her house had an odd normalcy about it. Part of him expected a house with black paint and medieval archways, but it was just another house. Actually very similar to those around it in the subdivision.
He rang the doorbell, and waited. He tried to remind himself that this was just Angel, just the girl he’d been seeing pretty much every day for the past few weeks, but it didn’t calm his anxiety. Sweat dripped down the insides of his arms, and his hands felt cold and clammy. He practiced a normal feeling smile and his lips stuck to his teeth. He heard footsteps approaching the door and tried to stop fidgeting.
It was go time.
His stomach clenched when a woman answered the door.
“Hi,” she said with a smile, then looked past him to his scooter. “You must be Calvin. I’m Maureen, Beth’s mom.”
She held out her hand.
Angel’s mom. He felt like his brain had jumped out an escape hatch in the back of his head and left him there to deal with this. He didn’t expect to meet her mom. Ever. And she certainly wasn’t what he would have expected. Like the house, she seemed so normal. And nice. She had the same greenish eyes as Angel.
“Hello ma’am,” he said, wincing at his weak, stuttering voice. “Yes. Cal.”
Apparently his absent brain had taken all of his basic language skills with it.
He tried to wipe his hand on the leg of his jeans without being too obvious, then reached out and shook her hand. He couldn’t imagine his hand felt good.
She shook his hand and frowned in what Cal hoped to God was mock annoyance.
“‘Maureen’ will do,” she said her frown turning back into a smile. “Come in.”
She released his hand and stood aside to let him pass. There was a pleasant, clean smell to the house. A light floral scent.
She closed the door and walked passed him. He followed her into the kitchen where she started gathering up a bag and some folders.
“Beth, honey,” she bellowed. Cal was shocked by how loud her voice was. “Your friend is here.”
She went about stacking up her folders and swung her bag over her shoulder. Cal walked further into the kitchen, taking in the surroundings. There were books everywhere. Books and papers. And ducks. There was definitely a duck motif to the kitchen.
There was a dimly lit room further past the kitchen and Cal saw bookshelves with even more books.
“I’m going to be late,” Maureen said to herself in a quiet, sing-song voice.
“Well,” she said, turning to Cal. “It was a pleasure to meet you Cal. I’m glad to see Angel making friends.” She looked over Cal’s shoulder. “Especially such age-appropriate ones.”
“Mom,” Angel hissed. She had come in to the kitchen behind Cal.
“You’ll have to come over for dinner sometime, Cal,” Maureen said, ignoring Angel. “Some night when I don’t have to teach.”
Cal stepped out from between Angel and her mom.
“Yeah,” he said. “Sure. I’d like that.”
He caught Maureen mouthing something to Angel. Angel continued to stare daggers back at her mom.
“Okay,” Maureen said walking out the way she and Cal had come in. “I’m off. You two have fun.”
They listened to her footsteps back to the door. The door opened, and closed. “She is so annoying,” Angel said with a growl, turning to Cal with a pained look on her face. “I’m sorry you had to go through that. When she heard you were coming over, she insisted that she stay and meet you. She was supposed to be gone.”
“That?” Cal asked. “That was fine. She seemed nice.”
“Yeah,” Angel said, glowering. “Just you wait.”
With that conversation done, Cal was out of reserves. They stood alone in the kitchen for a bit, not making eye contact.
“Hey,” Angel said. “Let me show you around.”
The house wasn’t very large, so the tour was brief. They ended up in a den of sorts, the dark room on the other side of the kitchen, though Angel had turned some lights on. She had avoided showing him her room, which he guessed was on the side of the kitchen where she had initially come from.
He looked around at the books.
“You guys have a lot of books,” he said.
“Yeah,” she said dropping into a big sectional couch with thick cushions. “That’s what you get when your mom’s an English teacher.”
Cal sat down on the couch, a comfortable distance from Angel. Angel brought one leg up and faced Cal.
“So,” she said. If he hadn’t been so stuck on his own discomfort, he might have noticed hers. “Who’s your favorite author?”
“Umm,” Cal said, buying time for his brain to start working.
“No comic books,” she said with a smile.
“Well,” Cal said. He could only remember one book at that moment. “Frank Herbert.”
“Dune?” she asked.
“I love those books.”
Books? There were more than one?
“How about you?”
“It’s hard to choose just one,” she said.
“C’mon now,” Cal said smiling. “No changing the rules.”
“Okay, then Chekhov,” she said.
He had no idea who she was talking about.
“I’m guessing you’re not talking about the guy in Star Trek,” he said.
“No,” she said, her smile growing wider. “Not Star Trek. He wrote short stories. Beautiful stories. And plays.”
The conversation started drooping again.
“Where does your mom teach?” he asked.
“The community college,” Angel answered.
“Oh, cool,” he said.
“No, not really.”
“Oh,” Cal said, trying to figure out another topic.
“She’s an annoying mom,” Angel said, “but a really good teacher. Way better than any others at that crappy college.”
“Why’s she teaching there, then?”
“Me,” Angel said. “Well, and my dad, I guess. He’s a professor, too. He got to keep his career, though. My mom got to take care of me. She was denied tenure while on extended leave.”
“That doesn’t seem fair,” Cal said.
“It wasn’t. It’s actually illegal, but my dad didn’t want to fight it and hurt his chances.”
“So how’d you guys end up in Aberdeen?”
“She’s from here,” Angel said. “I guess she wanted to come back to some place she felt comfortable. My grandparents were alive when we first got here. This was their house. My mom grew up here. Isn’t that sad?”
“Why’s that sad?” Cal asked.
“To claw your way out of a crappy little town like this only to wind up back in it.”
“I don’t know,” Cal said. “Aberdeen isn’t that bad.”
“You gotta get out and see the real world, Cal,” Angel said leaning forward. “This town is a dead-end. I’m sure not coming back here after I graduate.”
“What’s your plan?”
“I’m going back to New York to live with my dad and step-mom,” she said. “They’re really cool. I wish you could meet them. And New York,” her eyes grew wide in excitement. “It’s just such a fun city. You have to go there sometime.”
“Maybe I’ll come and visit you,” Cal said.
“Yeah,” Angel replied. “I could show you around. We’d have so much fun there.”
Cal’s mind caught up with the math of what they were saying. They were talking about the future. A future together. The conversation dropped again. Maybe Angel had done the same calculation. The drop this time wasn’t unpleasant though. Cal looked into her eyes, and she looked back and a warm, pleasant feeling crept over him. His mind, ragged from the harsh emotional jarring of the past several weeks, finally relaxed. His thoughts got fuzzy, like the old pictures of his parents.
Cal reached out and took her hand in his. It was velvety soft and warm. Her smile widened. The world had finally stopped and let them have a moment.
His phone bleeped, making him jump. It had sounded so loud in the silence that had grown between them. He flipped open his phone. Angel pulled her hand back and sat up with a soft laugh.
ON MY WAY, Oscar had texted.
“It’s Oscar,” Cal said.
He knew what they should do, but the voice for staying there with Angel was very persuasive.
“We should go,” he said. He hadn’t meant it as a question, but it came out like one.
“Yes,” she said.
Her smile was beautiful. She stood up and stretched, then turned and offered Cal a hand out of the deep cushions. She had a pleasant, happy look on her face as she looked down at him. Far happier than he’d seen her look before. Her eyes looked up towards the kitchen.
She threw herself back down on the couch, Cal falling back with her. She rolled over and pulled him down on top of her. He was worried that things were moving too fast until he saw her face. The happy look was gone. The fear that he was more accustomed to seeing was back.
“Cal,” she said. Her chin was quivering; tears were in her eyes. “They’re here. There’s a black SUV outside.”
* * *
CHANGE PLAN, Cal texted as they reached the old wooden fence in Angel’s back yard.
He put the phone in his pocket and reached over to help Angel over the fence, but she vaulted up and twisted over it easily. Cal didn’t have such an easy time, but he got on top of it without too much noise and without knocking it over. He scraped down the other side and bruised his hip on a sprinkler head when he fell the last few feet.
Angel helped him up and they looked through the gaps in the fence. Nothing was moving in the early dark of an autumn evening in the Northwest, just the dripping of the light rain off of the few remaining leaves on the trees.
Angel pulled on him and they ran along the fence, not wanting to get too close to the neighbor’s house or get out in the open grass.
Cal’s phone rang. He grabbed at it, and tried to silence it quickly.
It was Oscar’s number. He answered the call.
Oscar immediately started to ask something.
“Can’t talk,” Cal whispered, cutting Oscar off. “Hold on.”
They got to the back corner of the neighbor’s yard and followed the side fence out to the front yard.
“Where are we going?” Cal asked pointing at the phone.
“Tell him to meet us at the 7-11 on Third,” Angel said, looking up and down the street.
Her voice was shaking. Cal grabbed her hand and squeezed it. She looked at him with a weak smile.
“Oscar?” Cal said into the phone.
Oscar started asking questions.
“Oscar, shut up,” Cal said. “Meet us at the 7-11 on Third.”
Cal shut the phone and shoved it in his pocket.
“Let’s go,” he said to Angel.
She took off down the street, dragging him along with her.
* * *
By the time they reached the 7-11, Cal thought his chest would explode. Though he’d probably puke his guts out first. Equal parts of pride and fear kept him from lagging behind Angel or asking to stop to catch his breath. After a while asking anything wasn’t possible, he was just trying to get enough air to survive.
They saw Oscar’s Corolla parked in front of the 7-11. Cal looked around as they jogged to it. No black SUVs in sight.
Angel hopped in the back and Cal opened the passenger door, then thought better of it. He jumped in the back with Angel and they slid down on the seats, hiding below the windows.
“What are you guys doing?” Oscar said, turning around to look at them. “What’s going on?”
“Let’s get to Jason,” Cal said between gasps. “Talk on the way.”
Oscar started the car and pulled out of the parking lot.
Cal was finally getting his breath under control. He looked at Angel her hair was wet with a mixture of rain and sweat, but she seemed to be breathing normally.
“You a runner?” Cal asked. He still couldn’t string long sentences together.
“I did junior track in middle school,” she said. “And I’m stuck in P.E now, so I get some practice.”
“P.E.?” Oscar asked. “As a junior?”
“Yeah,” Angel said. “Some credits didn’t transfer properly.”
“So,” Oscar said. “What happened?”
“Agents,” Cal said. “At Angel’s place.”
“Inside?” Oscar asked. His voice was anxious.
“No,” Cal said. “I got there early,” he and Angel shared a glance. “They were parked outside when we were going to leave.”
“Were both of them there?” Oscar asked.
“I didn’t see either of them,” Cal said, and looked at Angel.
“No,” she said. “I only saw the SUV.”
“So the other one could be out here,” Oscar said.
“Yeah,” said Cal. “Or they could’ve left her house by now.”
“Great,” Oscar said.
They’d been in the car for a while.
“Are we getting close?” Cal asked. “This isn’t very comfortable back here.”
“Yeah,” Oscar replied. “It’s right here. I was just circling around to make sure there were no agents and get the full story from you guys before going in. It looks clear.”