A.N.- I have *finally* update all previous chapters and written some new chapters. If you read the story previously please reread, there have been a lot of changes. If you haven't, welcome! Thanks so much for reading my story, I really hope you enjoy it and please leave a comment, I love constructive criticism!
Born To Run
Kristen squinted as the sheet was pulled away, blinded momentarily by the statue's polished bronze. The soldier stood at full attention, his arm raised in salute, his metallic eyes focused eastward on something distant and unseen. John A. Keaton, her brother's name, glared out at her in bold capitalized print from its marble base. Just one of nearly a hundred names, local boys who'd gone off to war and never come home. Names stretching all the way back to the Civil War though Millerton hadn't even existed back then…The design team her father hired had been very thorough. She hated the idea from the very beginning, from the first time she'd heard her father mention it during a dinner party… 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 statue's 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?"
Kristen leaned forward slightly in her seat to watch her father, he smiled as he rose from his chair and approached the podium, as though he were accepting an award. "Thank you, Mr. Mayor," the microphone whined, "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 clap, 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 their father. She felt sick, watching his face light up at the applause that rippled through the crowd as he returned to his seat. As if he'd done something worth remembering, as if those names didn't belong to real people, people whose lives had been cut short in violent, gruesome ways. Prettying it up with words like 'honor' and 'service' and 'sacrifice' didn't change what it really was—a tragedy, a waste… A wave of hatred washed over her, she wanted to scream, run—something! Instead she continued to sit, her hands clasped neatly in her lap and her ankles demurely crossed, completely dead inside.
Crowds converged over Keystone Park, spreading picnic blankets over weather-worn tables or on spare patches 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 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 one 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 played.
Kristen leaned against the gazebo railing her parents and their friends were lunching under, the chipping white paint scratching against her bare arms. She waited for her mother to scold her, "Stand up straight Kristen," but she was too preoccupied 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 seemed to notice.
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 Penn State, his alma mater. Whether that was true or not Kristen had never bothered to ask. She watched him now, so smooth and casual as he conversed with their parents' friends. He was handsome, like a young Paul Newman—her best friend Cheryl called him a dreamboat. Captain of the football team, Senior Class President, and last year's Junior Prom King—he was Prince Charming come to life.
Pete must've felt her eyes on him, he glanced past the people he was conversing with, winking at her, she couldn't help smiling back…at least he noticed her.
He nodded his head across the park, mouthing, "wanna 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 papier-mâché, "labor day is sort of communist."
"Mhm," Pete murmured, sliding his hand to the small of her back and sweeping her hair 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 jaw, lingering in the crook of her neck 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 murmured, breaking away to kiss 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 up her 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…
"Get a room you two..!" Someone shouted from behind, making Pete turn sharply, leaving Kristen feeling horribly exposed until she realized it was only Ray and her best friend Cheryl, clinging on his arm.
Pete slugged the hulking defensive lineman in the shoulder, "great timing Ray…"
"Some party eh?" Ray said, glancing back at the park with a roll of his eyes.
"It was until you showed up," Pete murmured, winking at Kristen. She felt her cheeks burning as she straightened her skirt. She wished Cheryl would stop looking at her that way, with that half smirk and that knowing look in her eyes…it wasn't like she hadn't made it with Ray, or her two previous boyfriends for that matter.
"Hey Cherrie…" her tone came out a little more pointed than she'd intended, but Cheryl only grinned obliviously, linking arms with her.
"Hey Kris, I was wondering where you'd been all day…"
"With my parents, actually."
"Oh yeah, hey your Dad's speech was great."
"Yeah his secretary is quite the little poet," she rolled her eyes, glancing at Pete. He and Ray were busy finishing off the whisky in Ray's flask and he seemed to have forgotten her entirely. She pulled away from Cheryl, cinching her hands around Pete's waist, "can we get out of here?" She asked, pouting her lips at him.
"Sure babe, where you wanna go?"
"We could go up to the reservoir," Cheryl suggested.
"Nah, too hot…" Ray shook his head.
"Too hot for swimming?"
"Too hot to drive all the way up there."
Pete grinned, "I think I've got a way of keeping you cool buddy, come on."
He led them back toward the gazebo, slinking around the side in a comical attempt not to be seen. They didn't come up by the stairs but around the back, just below the refreshment stand. Pete smacked Kristen's backside lightly, "go distract your parents…"
"Oh…" She continued around, glancing back over her shoulder as she mounted the steps to see Pete and Ray hastily snatching bottles of booze—beer, wine, whatever they could get their hands on from the cooler, she had to swallow a laugh.
Her parents didn't need much distracting. Her mother was perched precariously on the railing, the skirt of her black sheath dress hiked up so that it exposed a good deal of her thigh. She looked elegant in spite of this, something to do with her slick up-do' and her long, graceful neck, the way her expertly manicured fingers delicately grasped the end of her cigarette as she held it out to be lit by a man who was decidedly not Kristen's father. He was well into his scotch and far too busy regaling his cronies with worn out tales of his business prowess to even notice his wife or daughter—or his daughter's boyfriend stealing booze from under the table.
"Um…Daddy," she said, moving into his little circle. He blinked at her a moment, as if he didn't recognize her, and then smiled.
"There she is, where's that boyfriend of yours?"
"This can't be your little girl, John," One of the men said, a chairman on U.S. Steel's board of directors, if she remembered correctly, "why, she's practically all grown up." He was looking her over in a way that made her pull nervously at the hem of her skirt.
Her father smiled, wrapping his arm around her, "I was just telling these fellows about Pete. "
"Captain of the Football team, ey?" Another man put in.
"That's right," she nodded, "he's um, he's getting the car. Dad, we were wondering if…" she faltered but then forced a smile, "if Pete, Ray, Cheryl and I could go up to the reservoir, is that alright?"
"Sure honey," he removed his arm from around her to reach into his pocket, "you need some cash?"
"No, that's okay—."
"Every kid needs a little spending money," he slapped a thin wad of bills into her palm, taking another long swig of his drink before kissing her sloppily on the cheek, "you have fun."
"Thanks Daddy…" she gave him a smile as she turned, heading back down the steps, she was halfway down when Cheryl grabbed her hand and the four of them made a run for it, the boys' arms overflowing with bottles.
"Gosh, what'd you do, take all of it?!" She tried to sound disapproving but couldn't help laughing as they dashed across the park, dodging trees, picnic tables and booths, children chasing each other with sparklers and drippy ice-cream cones, Mothers calling after them as they gathered up their picnic baskets and blankets.
They made it to Pete's car, a cherry red Alfa Romeo convertible his father had bought him when he'd made Captain, dumping the bottles into the trunk before they hopped in. "Now it's a party!" Ray shouted from the backseat as the engine purred to life and they tore out of the parking lot.
A high-pitched sliding electronic sound filled the small auto shop, booming from the radio perched on one of the crowded shelves that lined the garage. From beneath a Buick Lesabre, a pair of ratty sneakers bounced, keeping time to the beat.
…I'm pickin' up good vibrations
She's giving me excitations
I'm pickin' up good vibrations
(Oom bop, bop, good vibrations)
She's giving me excitations
(Oom bop, bop, excitations)
Good good good good vibrations
(Oom bop, bop)
Close my eyes
She's somehow closer now
Softly smile, I know she must be kind…
Mick hummed along as he placed a catch pan beneath the engine and, using a socket wrench, removed the oil drain plug. "When I look in her eyes, she goes with me to a blossom world," he half sang in a high falsetto as the hot oil drained steadily out into the pan, "I'm picking up good vibrations, she's giving me excitations, I'm pickin' up good vibrations, Oom bop, bop," he rolled from beneath the car, intent on finding a spare plug gasket to replace the old one until he locked eyes with Dex, the other mechanic.
Dexter Jones was about twice the size of Mick and three times his age, and he was staring at him now with one brow cocked.
He laughed out right, "save it for your gig tonight kid…"
Mick grinned sheepishly, crossing over to his workbench, "how'd you know—?"
"Your Aunt, and Jay might've mentioned it, oh, a thousand times, at least," Dex shook his head, "keeps asking me if he can go…"
Finally locating a new gasket Mick dropped back onto the roller and slid beneath the car, "Well, we'd keep an eye on him, ya know..."
"And when all those south-side bigots see a negro boy in there by himself? Then what?"
His tone was sharp, pointed, Mick was glad Dexter couldn't see him flinch. He went to speak, swallowed, and then tried again, his voice coming out quieter than he'd meant, "This isn't North Philly Dex."
"It ain't exactly paradise either."
Mick was about the reply when the service bell at the pump outside jangled, cutting him off, "Dexter…"
"Not a chance kid, it's your turn."
"Aw come on, I'm up to my elbows in this!"
"Spare me the sob story…"
Mick groaned rolling out of under the car, instinctively catching the grease rag Dex threw at him, "thanks a lot…" He hopped up and wiping his hands, headed out toward the gas-pump. He bent down to the window of the newer model Valiant parked beside it, "'Afternoon."
The driver was busy scrounging through the glove compartment and didn't look up, "just' fill er' up."
"Yes sir," He nodded, unscrewing the gas-cap and inserting the nozzle. He could hear the brass band playing across town, the melody distorted so that it sounded more like random noise than actual music…When the tank was full he replaced the cap and bent again to the window, "did you want full-service Sir, or-?"
"Just the gas."
"Right, that'll be $3.35." The man handed him the money and restarted his engine, pulling out of the parking lot before Mick could double-check the cash...two dollars and fifty cents. "Asshole…" Mick muttered, looking down the road the way the car had gone. Two young teens were peddling 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," The older man called back, "what's that kid sister of yours doin' with my boy?" he could hear the smirk behind his gravelly voice. Mick chuckled, 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.
"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 freckled face. 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 Mick." Speaking of…He eyed Jay, it wasn't that he disliked the kid exactly, it was just that he didn't like him hanging around with his little sister so much.
"Hey, shouldn't you two be at the picnic?"
"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 to the reservoir," she shot Jay a disparaging look from behind her over-sized wire framed glasses but he deflected it, turning his back to fish two bottles of Coca-Cola out of 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 Hershey bar from the box under the counter, "for my Mom…" Hershey bars were never a good sign in the Jones' household, they were to Mrs. Jones what liquor was to other people, a way to drown her sorrows.
"You heard from Cal?" 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 Cal had played football together in school, being the only colored boy on the team never seemed to faze him and he was the fastest damn wide receiver in the state. Together with Jack Keaton he'd taken their team to state finals, a feat 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. He'd enlisted the same time Keaton had, right after graduation. 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," Jay said dismissively, though he couldn't hide the dark expression, almost like a shadow, that passed over his face. 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 toward the garage, pausing in the doorway briefly while his eyes adjusted after the brightness of the afternoon sunlight. He was just stepping back inside when Dex looked up from the truck. "Why don't you take off early? You got that gig tonight and everything…"
"Yeah? You sure?"
"I can finish up here, go on."
"Thanks man, hey I owe you one!"
Danny sat, his back leaning slightly into the pitch of the roof, asphalt from the newly laid shingles biting slightly into his legs, he took a long drag off his cigarette, exhaling slowly. From this position he could see the tree-lined clearing in the center of town that was Keystone Park, and the crowds beginning to disperse as the afternoon waned. The brass band had finally ceased their incessant blaring and the air felt oddly still without it, almost heavy.
"Hey!" Al called up from the ladder. Danny stood, flicking his cigarette away and moved down to the edge of the roof, taking the bail of shingles from his friend and slinging them onto his shoulder. Al stepped over the ladder onto the roof and together they began laying the next row, hammering them into place. "Uncle Max said we can call it a day after this."
Danny cocked a brow at him, "at three in the afternoon?"
Al shrugged and then grinned, "sure, it's a holiday right?"
"Right…" A holiday they should've gotten off, Uncle Max's roofing business being part of the union and all, but as Danny and Al were working strictly under the table it seemed union rules didn't apply to them. Not that Danny was about to complain, he needed the work.
"Hey you two goons getting' off work any time soon?" They glanced up in unison to see Mick stepping over the ladder onto the roof.
"After this bail, yeah…I thought you worked 'til six?"
He shrugged, stealing Danny's hammer and finishing off the shingle, "The boss-man wasn't around so Dex let me off early."
Afternoon sunlight glinted on the green-blue water as Pete pulled the car off the highway and down the short dirt track to the makeshift beach, driving at a crawl so as not to kick up any dust or rocks that might muss up the paint. They weren't the only ones who'd thought of escaping the heat, a line of cars were parked to one side of the track and families were scattered across the tree-lined beach…If it could even be called that. There was no sand, just a small strip of semi-smooth stones at the water's edge. Ray let out a whoop and jumped out of the car before it had stopped, stripping down as he went so that by the time he reached the water he was clad only in his boxers. Cheryl wasn't far behind him—although she didn't strip down to her skivvies as she followed.
"Alone at last," Pete grinned, leaning in to kiss her.
Kristen hesitated briefly, alone wasn't exactly true, there was a family not ten feet away with three small children. She could feel the mother's eyes on them and sensed her disapproval. But Pete looked so handsome just now, sunlight shining in his hair, his eyes bright with anticipation. His arms fit around her so perfectly, his touch light but firm, confident. She couldn't help smiling and kissing him back.
This time last year he wouldn't have looked twice at her, he'd been so wrapped up in that Betty Morris girl, and Kristen, a lowly sophomore, had been well below his radar. Now it was her he was so wrapped up in, she was his and all the other girls in school could eat their hearts out, she wasn't about to let him go! …So it was strange, really strange that all the time Pete was kissing her, running his hands over her shoulders, pushing her gently back into the seat, all the time she kept thinking "No!"
When his fingers began inching beneath the hem of her skirt she laughed and pushed him back slightly, sitting up and reaching for the beer on the dashboard. She took a swig of the now warm liquid, grimacing as it slid down her throat.
"What's the matter?" His tone was impatient.
"Nothing," she took another swig, "it's just, you know…let's slow down a little."
"Why?" He grinned, kissing her neck. He moved his hand up her outer thigh, squeezing gently.
She shifted away from his grip, "because I want to slow down…"
"Aw come on baby, there's no one around…"
She nodded down the beach, "you're kidding right?"
He rolled his eyes, "there's trees everywhere, no one can see us."
"That's not even the point," he'd been practically on top of her but she hadn't minded till now, now that his hands were a little firmer, his weight against her a little heavier, almost forceful, "Pete stop!"
"God!" He groaned, "what's your problem?"
"I told you I don't want to do this now!"
"You say that but…" he went to kiss her but she pushed his face away.
"I mean it!"
"Come on Kristen, don't be such a priss—."
She climbed out of the car, "screw you!"
"I wish you would!"
She rolled her eyes, stalking off down the shoreline, she could hear him shouting after her, making a scene, but she ignored him. Maybe she was being a priss, just like he'd said, a goody-goody…but was it too much to ask for her first time not to be in the backseat of his stupid car in the middle of broad daylight? Call her crazy, but that just wasn't her idea of romance.
"Come on baby," she muttered mockingly. Why couldn't it be like the movies? When Paul Newman or Rock Hudson seduced a girl, well, you can bet they at least had better pickup lines…
"Kris, hey Kristen…!" It was Cheryl calling after her this time but she still didn't turn, she'd most likely be on Pete's side and Kristen really wasn't in the mood. Cheryl finally caught up with her anyway, grabbing her arm and pulling her to a stop. "What's wrong?" she asked, breathless, "what happened? Ray and I were down by the water and all of a sudden we heard Pete shouting and—"
"Nothing's wrong, I'm fine."
"Right," Cheryl raised a brow skeptically, "oh come on Kris, tell me!"
"Really, it's nothing, Pete just wanted to…you know…and I didn't want to."
"He wanted to and you—are you crazy?"
"I knew you wouldn't understand," she started walking again.
"Come on, stop, stop okay, I just—I mean Kris he's perfect."
"And you love him right?" When Kristen didn't respond immediately Cheryl's eyes widened, "right?!"
"Well, yeah, I guess so…"
"Listen hun you'd better stop guessing and get really sure really quick because I heard Betty's back, you know, from vacation, she went to California, can you believe that? Anyway, I guess she's been telling people that she wants Pete back and, of course she's got nothing on you but you oughta, you know…seal the deal."
Kristen wrinkled her nose, "Uhg Cheryl! You make it sound like a business negotiation!"
"Sorry, I'm just saying…"
"I know, I know and I will, just not here."
"So can we go back now?" They'd wandered several yards up the beach, "please?"
"Fine…" They started back down the beach arm in arm, discussing what outfits they were going to wear for the first day of school and which classes they'd have together when Kristen stopped short. Betty Morris, freshly tanned from a summer on the west coast, wearing this skimpiest shorts Kristen had ever seen, was leaning over the side of Pete's car, their faces inches apart while they talked.
"Ohh," Kristen folded her arms across her chest, "I don't know who I'm going to murder first, her or him."
"So I guess this means you're still angry?" Kristen shot her a look, "and we're probably not riding back to town with him?"
"I'd rather walk—no! I'd rather die than get back in that car with that two-timing, sleazy, no good-."
Cheryl sighed exasperatedly, "fine, I saw Josie Powell's car when we pulled up, I'm sure she'd give us a ride back to town, come on…"