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.- Just wanted to thank everyone who has been following this story, especially those who have reviewed or added it to their alert list, you make my day, really, you have no idea! (Added quite a bit to the chapter so be sure to reread!)
News travels fast in a small town, even faster in small town high schools, so when Kristen stepped through the wide double doors into the building and a dozen eyes turned to look, she didn't wonder why. Instead she strode up the hallway, head held high, pretending she couldn't hear them talking about her, not even bothering to whisper.
Bits and pieces of conversation came at her from all directions,
"…And she left with him?"
"…Mick Townsend, you're kidding right?"
"…At Vinny's? Bet Pete beat the shit out of him…"
I don't care, I don't care, I don't care, she chanted to herself as she headed for her locker. She was just pulling it open when she caught sight of him from the corner of her eye...Pete, already sporting a new varsity jacket, moving up the hall flanked as usual by Ray and at least half of the football team, a stream of girlfriends, and cheerleaders following close in their wake. She noted with some satisfaction the dark bruising still around his eyes, marring to some degree the handsomeness that had first attracted her to him. She knew better now, of course, his presence sending a shiver of revulsion down her spine. None of them looked at her as they passed, not even Cheryl. I don't care, she thought, turning back to her locker.
It was no use, she did care. Not about Pete, but the rest of it—the status, being "in", being part of something, it'd made her feel safe, secure. Now, without that, without being 'Pete's girlfriend', 'Cheryl's best friend', 'Ms. Popular', she wasn't quite sure who she was. She took out her English book, slamming her locker shut.
And then there was Mick Townsend…he was always there now, like a hum in the back of her brain, if she let her mind wander even just a little it immediately fell to him, to his piercing eyes and brash grin. To the smell of worn leather and the sound of guitars, his voice raw as he belted out the top note of a Beatles song and then soft and low, half-humming Elvis.
She headed to homeroom in a daze, her mind swirling in a fog of memories, his lips, his calloused hands, the warmth of his body against hers—the pang of rejection that came next wasn't quite as sharp as it had been yesterday but it was still painful enough. Kristen shook herself mentally as she dropped into her seat, I don't care, I don't care, I don't-
She looked up, blinking against the pair of warm brown eyes staring down at her beneath knit brows. "Oh…Danny," She had a vague, distorted memory of him from Saturday night—his face and that same look of concern…she was at once glad and mortified that she couldn't remember exactly what had happened. She felt a blush creeping over her skin, "Hi."
His frown deepened and she realized, too late, that her voice had given her away, "you okay?"
No. She thought, but only nodded, managing a half smile, "Sure, why wouldn't I be?" He cocked a brow at her and she had to laugh, "Really, I'm fine."
"Okay, well…good then," A smile ghosted at the corners of his mouth, just briefly before it faded again.
She wouldn't ask, she'd already determined that if she saw Danny today she absolutely would not ask about Mick, but here he was, waiting patiently, almost expectantly and the classroom was so conveniently empty. "So—."
"I haven't seen him," he cut her off, his voice suddenly sharp making her recoil slightly. His eyes had darkened, a deeper crease forming on his forehead…something was wrong, something between Danny and Mick, and the knot tightening in the pit of her stomach told her it was somehow her fault.
"Oh," she managed, slumping back against her seat, a beat passed before the first bell rang, filling the awkward silence, Ms. Novak appeared in almost the same instant, followed by half a dozen students. Danny slipped away down the row, she didn't turn to watch though she could feel his eyes still on her, scalding against the back of her neck, worse somehow than all the other stares…She stood abruptly, nearly knocking the books from her desk as she fled the room.
Why? She thought as she skittered down the hall, brushing past students and teachers on their way to classes. Why did she care? She pushed through the door into the girl's bathroom, meeting the eyes of half a dozen girls. A moment ago they'd been struggling and jostling to get a spot in front of the mirror or else hastily putting out their cigarettes, fanning the smoke out the window, now they'd frozen, stunned by her outburst.
"Jesus Keaton, we thought you were a teacher!" One of the girls said, stooping to retrieve the cigarette she'd tossed to the floor. Kristen didn't respond, only continued to stand in the doorway, seeming stunned herself. The last bell echoed through the halls, sending the girls into a frenzy as they packed up their makeup, gathered their books and, shoving past her, filed out into the hall.
Alone at last Kristen moved to the sink, she leaned over it, trying to avoid her reflection in the mirror as she turned on the tap. She shouldn't have cared…Who was Pete St. James to treat her so terribly, or Cheryl Fontana to give her the brush off? Who were any of these people to give her dirty looks and talk about her behind her back? Who was Danny Quinn to make her feel so small—as if everything were somehow her fault? And for that matter who was Mick Townsend to cause all of this in the first place?
She cupped her hands beneath the faucet, allowing the cool water to collect before splashing it in her face. "Nobody," she said aloud as she wiped the dripping water away, looking up at last into the mirror, wondering suddenly if she was talking about them or herself.
There was a clicking sound as the bolt on one of the stall doors slid back, the sound echoing hollowly through the room, nearly sending Kristen out of her skin. A girl with dark hair stepped out from the stall, moving up to the sink beside Kristen and flipping on the faucet. She seemed oddly familiar though Kristen couldn't quite place her and then—the girl Danny had been talking to out on the strip, the same one that had been sitting with them at the diner…Kristen hadn't recognized her without the camera.
She was watching Kristen with almost as much interest as Kristen was watching her, their eyes meeting in the mirror. The girl smiled briefly, not looking away as she unbuttoned her makeup bag and took out a tube of lipstick.
"I'm Joanna," she said as she leaned in to apply it.
"Kristen, I know," she blotted her lips on a bit of tissue before offering the tube to Kristen.
She dropped it back into her bag, turning away from the mirror, "What is it you think you're doing?"
"Excuse me?" She blinked, Joanna's cool smile made a blush rise in her cheeks.
"Don't you think you've caused enough trouble?"
"I don't know what you're-."
"Why can't you just leave Mick alone?" Joanna shook her head, chuckling smugly, "you rich girls, you think you're so entitled!"
"That's none of your business!"
"Oh really? Listen Princess, I've known Mickey since we were four years old okay? Trust me, it's my business and I'm not about to stand by and watch him get hurt by the likes of some—."
Joanna only smirked, "Take my advice and back off, got it?" She didn't give Kristen time to respond but brushed past her, slipping out the door. Kristen stood for a long moment, the shock of what had just happened still sinking in. She felt herself trembling, a mixture of anger, humiliation and frustration almost overwhelming her. What was wrong with everyone? Did the world have some kind of personal vendetta against her today or something?
The door swung open behind her and she whirled around pinning a glare on whoever had the nerve to disturb her right then, "what?"
The poor girl, barely a freshman, positively trembled all the color draining from her freckled face as her hazel eyes widened, "S-sorry…" she stammered backing hastily out of the room.
"God!" Kristen groaned as the door swung shut once again, "I hate Mondays!"
Mallory passed through the doorway just as the last bell rang, scooting hurriedly past Mr. Phillips before he'd summoned up the breath to reprimand her. She slid into her desk, avoiding the eyes she could feel on her, the same ones that had followed her and Jay up the hall this morning, accompanied by not a few whispers. Some of it could be chalked up to her brother and Kristen Keaton…the entire student body seemed scandalized. She didn't want to think about what the rest of the attention was about, she refused to let it spoil her day. The way she'd felt walking down the hall—they must have walked to class together thousand times but this morning had felt so different, his arm around her shoulder, kissing her cheek when they parted at her classroom door…She felt like she was walking on air and she wasn't about to let anyone bring her down. Especially not some silly high school students whose good opinion she'd never cared about before and certainly wouldn't be bothered to now.
"So you finally scored with Townsend's kid sister huh Jones?"
"I gotta get to class Booker," Jay said, shrugging his friend's arm off his shoulder, meaning to brush past him and the other two boys blocking his path but Booker stepped in front of him, folding his arms across his chest, making his biceps flex.
"Come on man, how was it? I heard about them Librarian types…" He smirked.
Jay met his eyes evenly, swallowing the urge to sock him in the teeth, "I said I gotta get to class," he moved to shove between them but one of the other boys—a big Junior Jay vaguely remembered as 'Mose', clamped a hand down on his shoulder. The other boy, a scrawny, scrappy looking kid he'd never seen before only grinned, rolling a toothpick across his bottom row of teeth. He wondered briefly when Booker had started hanging out with these clowns…
"What's your rush Jones?"
"Yeah, too good for us now or something?"
Jay rolled his eyes, "Nah, not too good for you Book," he shoved Mose's hand away, "just your new friends…"
Mose's hand coiled into a fist, he drew it back and Jay prepared to duck just as the last bell rang, peeling out shrilly over the rapidly emptying hall. He used the opportunity to slip easily between them, jogging up the hall and into his homeroom class, breathing a sigh of relief as he slid into his seat.
He hadn't exactly been avoiding Booker and his other friends, it was just…with Derry and everything, he hadn't felt much like hanging out. It has nothing to do with Mallory, he told himself as he opened his algebra book and began flipping through it, not really seeing the pages.
Mick tossed his lunch sack and hard hat down onto the cafeteria table before sliding onto the bench, letting his head fall forward onto the pitted linoleum table top. He'd only been at it five hours but his limbs felt stiff, his skin caked with the dried sweat that built up beneath his work clothes. His eyes felt baked, burnt, as though he'd been staring at the sun…just like every other son of a gun in this place. He scrounged around in his pockets for a moment before his fist closed around an empty cigarette pack, he turned to Carl Booker, just sitting down beside him. "Can I bum a smoke off ya man?"
"Sure kid," he passed him one, striking a match to light it for him, "hey, where's your old man? Not sick is he?"
"Thanks," Mick took a drag, exhaling with a shrug, "dunno…"
Carl blinked, "you checked up on him lately?"
"Not lately," Mick returned flatly, turning to his lunch.
"Oh, well," he changed the subject, "I heard my boy talking about that band of yours the other night—The Hounds, is it?"
Mick nodded between bites of bologna sandwich, "Yeah, we play over at the-."
"Go Lucky, that's what I heard. Getting to be pretty popular with the young folks 'round here huh?"
"I hope so…"
"Even the Southside set, Jr. said."
Mick blinked, studying Carl's expression, trying to figure out just what he was getting at, "Guess so."
"Yep, he was down there Saturday Night, said he saw John Keaton's girl…"
"Kristen," Mick clarified sharply.
"That's right, pretty little thing isn't she?" He grinned at Mick's shrug, "Must be the apple of her Daddy's eye."
"What's your point Carl?" He said, meeting his eyes.
Carl recoiled slightly, taken aback by that icy blue stare, "…All I'm saying is, that girl could be trouble for, you know, a kid in your situation."
Mick tossed his half eaten sandwich back into the bag, making to stand but Carl put a hand on his shoulder, "now don't get'cher dander up Mickey-boy, I'm just trying to look out for you."
Mick shrugged his hand off, about to respond when the cafeteria door opened and the foreman entered, making every head in the room shoot up. "Townsend," He said, his voice filling the whole room, the heads turned and Mick felt their eyes on him, he felt the color drain from his cheeks.
"Yessir?" He rose from the bench.
"Can I see you a minute?"
He crossed the room, feeling numbed somehow—having "a talk" with the foreman, like being called to the Principal's office, was never a good thing. He followed him from the cafeteria, down a hall that was little more than a scaffold a story above the mill floor, the roar of the furnace, the heat, and the hiss of cooling metal were overpowering, even from here. They stopped outside his office and the foreman—Harry, opened the door for him, letting him pass before he followed him in, closing the door behind them, just muffling the sounds on the floor.
He'd known Harry about as long as he could remember, one of his Dad's buddies from the old days. They used to play catch sometimes, he'd helped him take the training wheels off his first bike and showed him how to make a car for the pinewood derby in Cub Scouts…all the stuff his Dad had been too busy or too drunk to do.
"You wanted to see me?" He said stiffly, trying to read the expression in his light brown eyes.
"Relax Mickey," He grinned, "I'm not firing you…"
"Oh," he exhaled a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding with a laugh, "Jesus Harry you really had me buggin' there! So what's up?"
"You kids and your lingo…" he shook his head, "What's 'up' is," he rubbed the back of his neck, "just…how's your Dad doing?"
He shrugged, "fine, last I knew."
"You sure? He hasn't showed up to work in about a week."
"Dunno, Roy's always been a little sporadic, ever since your-," he coughed, "but never weeks at a time…"
"I'll talk to him."
"Someone needs to, 'cause if something doesn't change I'm gonna have to let him go."
"Harry he's your best friend!"
Harry sighed, running a hand through his hair, "I know kid, but it's not up to me, ya know? I don't make the calls."
He clapped him on the shoulder, "go finish your lunch alright?"
"Yeah, alright." He left the room, barely resisting the urge to slam the door behind him, his fists clenching and unclenching at his sides though he wasn't exactly sure who he was angry with. He hated feeling that he was responsible for his father, for the lazy, angry old man he was fighting so hard not to become. He didn't want to have anything to do with him…Harry was his best friend, if he was so worried about him why did he go check up on him? No, he left him to do the dirty work.
Kristen could hear the hum of conversation through the locker room door but as she pushed it open a sudden silence fell over her teammates. A beat passed while she stood in the doorway, meeting the dozen or so pairs of eyes staring blatantly at her, most were just curious but a few, one in particular, was clearly hostile. Betty Morris was glaring intensely at her, as if she hoped Kristen might drop dead right there. Kristen couldn't imagine why—wasn't Betty getting everything she wanted? After the cold shoulder Pete and the others had given her this morning she clearly wasn't competition anymore…why bother?
The moment passed and the girls turned away, starting up their conversations again though Kristen suspected there'd been a change of subject. She sucked in a deep breath and headed to her locker, swiftly changing out of her school clothes and into her cheerleading uniform. She'd debated coming to practice at all—she didn't really want to see Betty, or Pete or any of her other so-called friends, and they clearly didn't want to have anything to do with her…but who she was or wasn't dating or who she was friends with didn't change how much she enjoyed cheerleading and she had every right to be on the team, right? She could still feel Betty's withering gaze on her as she pulled her hair back in a ponytail…Apparently she disagreed.
"Okay girls," Betty said in her most "upbeat Captain" voice as they moved onto the field, "our pyramid formation was a little wobbly at last week's game so I think we need to switch things up. Kristen," her voice was suddenly acid, "You'd be better off on the bottom, so that means Joyce you're taking Kristen's place—got it? Great, let's go."
I don't care, I don't care… Kristen resumed her chant as she knelt in the grass, struggling to keep her elbows from wobbling as girl after girl piled on top of her and the four other poor saps stuck at the bottom. She wasn't about to let the likes of Betty Morris get to her.
The rest of practice continued in much the same vein, where Kristen had been a flier now she was a base, where she'd been in the forefront of the routine she was now little more than filler. She'd been demoted and everyone knew it. Part of her wanted to give up, who needed the grief? There were other sports—but then she'd catch that smug expression on Betty's face, the almost smile, as if she knew what Kristen was thinking, as if it was only a matter of time. Well, sorry to disappoint you Betty, she thought fiercely, but I don't give up that easily.
"Alright girls," their coach called from the bleachers, "great job today, hit the showers!"
Kristen exhaled slowly, rolling her neck to loosen the tension in her shoulders, she was just turning back toward the gym when she caught a flash of football uniform and golden blond hair. Pete was jogging over, she tried not to watch him but couldn't help it, even as he ran past, not even glancing at her.
"Hey Betty!" He called, she turned, beaming at him, the sunlight shone off his hair as he bent, kissing her, she stood on her tip toes to wrap her arms around his neck, kissing him back...Kristen felt sick. She turned, feeling dazed, unwilling to see any more. That fast…he had replaced her in an instant, as if the past six months had meant nothing to him, as if she meant nothing to him. She didn't, she realized, making her stomach churn, he'd been her first steady boyfriend, her first kiss, her first love and to him she was nothing—some prissy little junior who refused to put out. She stumbled into the locker room, peeling off her uniform as she went and stepping into the shower.
"Hey, um, Kristen?"
She blinked through the stream of water at Joyce, already showered and toweling her hair. God! Couldn't they leave her alone for one minute? "what?" She asked sharply.
Joyce recoiled slightly, "can I ask you something?"
The sophomore hesitated for a moment, biting her lip before she pressing on, "what's he like?"
"What's who like?" She flipped off the water and pulled her towel around herself.
Kristen hand itched to slap her but something in Joyce's face stopped her, her eyes held none of the other girls' malice, her mouth wasn't twisted, covering a smirk, she just stared at her with innocent curiosity in her wide green eyes. Her anger dimmed, "he's…I don't really know," she moved past her, back toward her locker, but Joyce followed.
"So it's not true?"
"That you and he are…you know."
Kristen ran the towel over her hair before pulling her blouse on. Actually she didn't know, she had no idea what they were. The memory of his lips against hers shot again through her memory and she felt her heart jump erratically. "We're just…" Friends? She barely knew him, she'd knew Danny Quinn better for heaven's sake! "We're just friends."
Joyce seemed disappointed, "oh, well, because everyone is saying."
She finished dressing and slammed her locker shut, "I know," She started to turn away but Joyce's gaze held her.
"I think he's dreamy," she said with a little smile, as if confessing a sin she didn't really feel guilty about.
"Gosh Joyce, you think everybody's dreamy," another girl, Debbie, said, peeking around the corner, Kristen stiffened, she hadn't realized anyone else was listening.
"Nu-uh, only boys," she giggled.
"He is sort of good looking though," Debbie admitted, "like…like Steve McQueen or James Dean."
"It's the leather jacket," Kristen found herself smiling and the two girls laughed.
"Yeah maybe, you know he sort of looks like Brian Jones…"
"But he sounds like Paul McCartney."
"I'm gonna marry Paul McCartney…"
"Yeah you and every other girl in the world, I'm gonna marry John Lennon."
"But he's already married!"
Kristen smiled to herself as she headed out of the locker room. Maybe everyone didn't hate her after all…not that she cared of course.