Synopsis: In 1966 Millerton, Pennsylvania was little more than a smudge on the midwestern landscape, nearly straddling the state lines between Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. A black-hole of a town built up around a Steel Mill in the early 19th century and since forgotten about. I was seventeen that year, on the verge of what I thought was manhood and all I wanted was to get out. I didn't care how or where to, anywhere had to be better than here.
A.N.- In case you're wondering why these characters seem oddly familiar, it's because they are. This is the new and (hopefully) improved "Born to Run" as I'd originally envisioned it. I'm leaving the other one up, at least for a while, but I won't be updating it.
Another Pleasant Valley Monday
Kristen watched as the sheet was pulled away, unveiling the memorial. Sunlight glinted off the bronze soldier standing at full attention his arm raised in salute, his metallic eyes focused eastward on something distant and unseen. John A. Keaton glared out at her in bold capitalized print from the marble base, along with nearly a hundred other names—local boys who'd gone off to war and never come home, stretching back all the way to the civil war….Millerton hadn't even existed then, as such, but the design team her father hired for the project had been very thorough.
Kristen hated the idea from the very beginning, the first time she'd overheard her father mention it. In honor of Jack, he'd said, so blasé, as if he and his son were little more than casual acquaintances. She looked back up at the face, stiff, emotionless…nothing about it reminded her of her brother.
"And now," the Mayor continued as the smattering of applause died away, "The sponsor of this beautiful memorial and also of today's picnic, Mr. John Keaton…John, a few words?"
A few chairs down from her on the platform she saw her father rise and approach the podium, "Thank you, Mayor," he spoke, making the microphone whine, "Thank you all for being here to witness the unveiling of this memorial. In doing so, we remember those brave young men who fought and gave their lives for the freedom and liberty of this great nation. I would like to take a moment and more personally thank those of you here, and the families of those who are not, who have served or are currently serving in the armed forces, for their service and sacrifice. Let this memorial stand as a tribute to them, with honor and with gratitude, and here today, let us reaffirm our resolve to maintain the freedoms and liberties we so greatly enjoy for future generations…Thank you."
Kristen meant to applaud, it wasn't a bad speech really, her father's secretary had really outdone herself, but she couldn't. This wasn't about Jack, it was about her father. She felt sick, watching his face light up at the applause that rippled through the crowd as he returned to his seat, beaming as if he'd just won an award. A wave of hatred washed over her, she wanted to scream, run—something, instead she continued to sit, her hands clasped in her lap and her ankles crossed demurely, completely dead inside.
Crowds converged over Keystone Park, spreading picnic blankets over weather worn outdoor tables or on a spare patch of grass beneath shade trees wilting in the afternoon heat. The seriousness of the morning's events—the flag ceremony and gun salute, the unveiling of the new memorial, seemed almost forgotten, dissolving into a celebration of these last fleeting days of summer. There were a dozen different kinds of salad—potato, macaroni, pasta, chicken, fruit, jell-o and baked beans, chips and dip, platters of veggies and cheese… A fleet of portable charcoal grills had been brought in for the event around which the men gathered, arguing over the "done-ness" of the burgers and franks.
Booths had been setup around the exterior of the park, selling lemonade, ice cream, and little American flags. There were face-painters, jugglers, and an extremely pompous WWI veteran who would regale anyone otherwise unoccupied with his tales of past glory. Near the edge of the park, backed up against a line of trees, bedecked in patriotic splendor, a brass band bellowed.
Kristen leaned against one of the posts supporting the gazebo roof her parents and a party of their friends were lunching under, the chipping white paint scratching against her bare arm. She waited for her mother to scold her, "stand up straight Kristen", but she was too preoccupied with adding gin to her lemonade to give her daughter any notice. She sighed and hopped up onto the railing, smoothing down the skirt of her pale blue cotton shift, it was new and a good deal shorter than any of her other dresses, but neither of her parents had noticed that either.
They noticed Pete though, her boyfriend. Their parents were society friends, and he'd immediately impressed her father by mentioning that he was on the list to attend the University of Pennsylvania, his alma mater. Whether that was true or not, Kristen had never bothered to ask.
She watched him, so smooth and casual talking to their parents' friends. He was handsome, like a young Paul Newman—her best friend Cheryl called him a dream. He was also Captain of the football team, Class President, and he'd been King of the Junior Prom last year, which didn't hurt.
Pete must've felt her eyes on him for he looked up, winking at her, she couldn't help smiling back, at least he noticed her. He nodded his head toward the park, you want to go? She nodded and he came over, lifting her down from the railing, "Come on baby," he said with a smile, taking her hand.
They wandered away from the main area of the park, away from the crowds and noise and that horrible statue, ending up in a back lot where the parade floats were parked. "If you think about it," Kristen said, tilting her head to scrutinize a statue of liberty formed out of paper mache, "labor day is sort of communist."
"Mhm," Pete murmured, sliding his hand to the small of her back, and sweeping her hair back over her shoulder.
"It's about trade unions and the labor party, it's sort of funny don't you think?"
"Mhm," He pressed his face against her cheek, stroking her bare shoulder.
"I mean, all that talk about our"freedoms and liberties" and the strength of military and really, we're celebrating communism…"
Pete kissed her, running his lips over her neck, lingering in the crook of it as he moved forward, her back pressing against the float behind them. "That idiotic speech…" she muttered, almost oblivious, "he's so stupid!" Pete ran his hands up over her arms, massaging her shoulders, "I really hate him…" She meant to say more but suddenly his lips were against hers, and she melted into the kiss.
One hand moved to her thigh, stroking it lightly, "I like this new dress Kris," he spoke, breaking away to kiss the other side of her neck. Kristen was vaguely aware of the rustling of the paper streamers behind her, of the band playing across the park, of the sunlight hot on the top of her head, and more acutely of Pete's lips, warm and wet on her skin, of his hand inching bare thigh, his legs threaded between hers. It all felt distant, dreamlike…his other hand slid down from her shoulder, groping her breast through the thin material of her dress, she started as if awakened, "Pete!" she pushed her hand against his chest.
"Come on baby," he soothed in her ear, his hands becoming more urgent, more possessive, she pushed harder.
"Stop it!" she shouted, that, more than her pushing, sent him back a step. "Come on baby," he stroked her cheek, "we're just having a little fun…" He kissed her again, more forcefully this time, pulling her against him.
Kristen shoved him back, "get off of me!"
"What's your problem?"
"Yeah, your problem—just relax for once baby…"
"My problem is you're acting like a cat in heat!" she shoved past him.
"Why don't you grow up?" He called after her.
Kristen's whole face burned as she smoothed down her dress. How dare he..! Her stomach churned and she felt tears building behind her eyes, she crossed her arms over her chest and sniffed, refusing to cry. Her parents were still at the gazebo, or at least her father was, she could see him, laughing as he swallowed another sample of scotch.
She passed them by, heading into the more crowded portion of the park. It was in a state of cheerful chaos. Children darted here and there between people and booths, chasing each other with sparklers and drippy ice-cream cones. Mothers called after them as they gathered up their picnic baskets and blankets. Kristen felt completely detached, isolated from them, the deadness she'd felt that morning listening to her father's speech had returned tenfold, she felt like a ghost…
"Kristen! Hey Kris!" She turned sharply toward the sound. Cheryl detangled herself from her boyfriend Ray and skipped over to her, beaming, "I haven't seen you all—," her expression faltered and she frowned, "are you okay?"
"Pete…" she trailed off, too embarrassed. She knew for a fact that Cheryl had made it Ray and at least one other boy before him. Grow up Kris, she thought, "Pete and I had a fight."
"Hey Kristen," Ray smiled, coming up behind Cheryl and placing his hands on her shoulders, "have you seen Pete?"
Cheryl slapped his hand, "Ray..!"
She rolled her eyes, "men, come on Kris…I'll see you later hun'."
He blinked, confused but shrugged it off, pecking her on the cheek, "ok doll, see ya."
Cheryl looped arms with Kristen, "so, tell me all about it…"
Mick could hear the blaring of the brass band even from the other side of town as he leaned down to the window of the Chevrolet that had just pulled into the station, "Good afternoon Sir."
The driver seemed preoccupied with the woman in the passenger seat and didn't look up, "just gas, fill 'er up." Mick nodded, glancing briefly at the woman. He could understand the distraction; she was a leggy blonde dressed in a black sheath dress, she had her legs crossed and the short hem exposed a good deal of her thigh. She seemed classy despite this, her hair pulled up slickly, exposing an elegant neck around which dangled a string of pearls. She was smoking, holding her cigarette daintily in one exquisitely manicured hand. She must have felt his eyes on her for she lowered her sunglasses, looking past the man to pin him with a coy sort of stare, he swallowed hard and the corners of her mouth tilted up into the faintest smile. The man turned sharply to him, clearing his throat, Mick moved away from the window, quickly unscrewing the gas-cap and inserting the nozzle.
When he'd finished he came back to the window, "that'll be two dollars and thirty-five cents," he hazarded another glance in the woman's direction, but she had completely forgotten him, busy applying lipstick in her compact mirror. The man paid him and drove off, Mick counted the money…no tip. "Figures," he muttered, looking after the car.
Two young teenagers peddled their bikes up the middle of the street, swerving the car as it passed. "Dex," Mick called into the garage, "what's that boy of yours doin' with my kid sister?"
"Don't know son, what's that kid sister of your doin' with my boy?" The old man called back, he could hear the smirk behind his gravelly voice.
Mick chuckled at that, heading into the convenience mart to put the money in the till. It wasn't exactly cool inside, but a small fan on the windowsill worked over-time, circulating the air. The bell over the door jangled madly, announcing his sister and Dexter's son, Jay.
"Hi Mickey," Mallory greeted, hopping up onto the counter. She was dressed in one of his old sweat shirts with the sleeves cut off, a pair of grass-stained white shorts and ratty sneakers. Her mousy brown hair had probably been neat this morning but now it hung haphazardly about her head, and her oversized wire-rimmed glasses gave her face an owlish appearance. She looked caught somewhere between a bookworm and a tom-boy though she didn't seem to mind. He didn't mind either, she was fifteen and he didn't want boys getting any ideas.
"Hey, shouldn't you two be at the picnic?" He said, eyeing Jay. It wasn't that he disliked the kid, he was nice enough and being Dexter's son certainly helped but there were just some things…riots in Philly last year and then in Cleveland just a couple months back hadn't exactly eased racial tension. Now, locally, tempers had been running high, wearing thin—he couldn't allow his sister to get caught in the middle of it. He'd just have to talk to Dexter about it, explain…
"There's not a whole lot to do down there," Jay shrugged.
"I'd rather be swimming but somebody thinks it's too hot to ride up there," she shot Jay a disparaging look but he deflected it, turning his back to fish two bottles of coca-cola from the cooler.
"Somebody's right," he responded smoothly, handing one to her and setting his drink down on the counter.
"Somebody's lazy, you mean."
"Anything else?" Mick interrupted.
"I almost forgot," Jay picked up a Hersey bar from the box under the counter, "for Mom…" Hersey bars were never a good sign in the Jones' household, they were to Mrs. Jones what alcohol was to other people, a way to drown her sorrows.
"You haven't heard from Derry?" Mick asked in a low tone, not wanting Dexter to overhear from the garage.
Jay shook his head, "It's been nearly a month now…" Mick and Derry had played football together in school. Being the only colored boy on the team never seemed to faze him, he was the fastest damn wide receiver in the state. Together with Jack Keaton he'd taken their team to state finals, a fete they'd never managed before or since. He ran track in the spring too, of course, and an entire trophy case at the school was dedicated just to him. Everyone said he'd go professional, be in the Olympics, college scouts had their eye on him—and then, almost inexplicably, he'd joined the marines instead…He'd been stationed over in Vietnam for the past six months.
"I'm sure he's real busy," Mick said, ringing up the chocolate bar, "that's sixty cents."
"Yeah, sure," He said dismissively, though he couldn't hide the shadow that passed over his features. He dug the change from his pocket and passed it to him, gathering his purchases and heading toward the door, "Thanks Mick, see you later."
Mallory hopped down off the counter, following him, "bye Mickey…"
"Home before dark Mals..!" He called after her, but the door had already shut behind them.
He put the change in the till and headed back into the garage, it reeked of gasoline and axle grease but it was cool inside. He stood in the doorway briefly, waiting for his eyes to adjust after the brightness of the afternoon sunlight. Dexter was leaning over an old Chevy truck, up to his elbows in an engine that ought to have been scrapped.
"Hey," he rubbed the back of his neck, better get it over with…"Dex, listen, I—."
"Why don't you take off early?"
"I wanted to—what?"
"I know you got a gig tonight."
"Oh," it could wait, "you sure?"
"Yeah I'm sure, I can finish up here."
A.N.- Thanks for reading, please review! I'll love you forever!