A Slice With A View
Angelo was thrilled when he won four tickets to see Saintly Marcus, the Christian Rock Band performing at the Summer Beach Playhouse in May. It was the off season so there wouldn't be a lot to do other than watch the concert but Angelo was still excited at the chance to be in the audience for one of his favorite groups.
Angelo knew that his friend Denny's family owned property at Summer Beach so he asked Denny if he wanted to attend the concert in exchange for room and board. Denny wasn't a big fan of Christian Rock but he didn't want to disappoint his pal so he agreed to the proposal even though he knew he would be the third wheel since Angelo would certainly invite his girlfriend Maggie along.
Denny was impressed that high school sweethearts were still together two years after graduation. Angelo and Maggie both attended Green College and Denny just finished his two year Associate's Degree at Blue County Community College. Denny was glad his friends became a romantic couple in eighth grade but he never thought they'd last this long given that most teenage romances fizzle out.
Denny believed it was their personalities, character and nature that kept Angelo and Maggie committed. They were both spiritually grounded and that was half the battle. Angelo was a good natured, easy going, friendly guy who saw the best in people. Maggie was cheerful, upbeat and she laughed easily. While thin and lanky Angelo was drop-dead good looking with curly black hair, deep brown eyes, and a round face, Maggie was a bit heavy and she wore glasses so the two didn't look like an exact match but Maggie radiated goodness which made her beautiful. Denny liked them both.
A few days before they were due to leave for Summer Beach, Angelo and Maggie asked Denny if it would be okay if Joyce tagged along.
"You won't get all weirded out, will you?" Angelo worried.
Joyce was Maggie's long time best friend and Angelo knew that Denny had been secretly in love with her growing up. Unfortunately for Denny, Joyce dated popular Holt Moore through most of high school and she considered Denny a good friend, a well known death sentence for any potential romance.
Denny was secretly happy when Joyce and Holt broke up not long after Joyce's parents divorcedSenior year but he never tried to move in as the rebound guy and instead Denny maintained his accustomed role as side kick. Joyce went off to college at Rutgers so Denny didn't see her much after high school but then her Dad died unexpectedly the previous Thanksgiving which was devastating for Joyce
Maggie, Angelo and Denny all became concerned when Joyce dropped out of college following her father's death. Maggie was worried about her sad and grieving friend who was unmotivated to do much of anything after her father died.
"She's hates her mother for leaving her Dad for somebody else and she's having a real hard time dealing with all of this," Maggie explained with concern as the three friends discussed the Summer Beach trip. "Getting Joyce to agree to come with us was a major big deal.
"She's been in a coma for months," Angelo noted as the three shared a coffee at Johnny C's Diner.
"Is she a Saintly Marcus fan?" Denny wondered. "Is that why she's going?
"Not really," Angelo replied. "I just think she knows she needs to do something or she'll molt and die."
"It will do her good," Maggie said with confidence.
Denny was saddened to hear that Joyce was going through a difficult time but he'd be lying if he didn't admit that he was happy she was coming with them. Any time Denny had a chance to be with Joyce was a good time.
On Friday morning, Denny came out of his house and tossed his bag into the trunk of Angelo's car before climbing into the back seat, warmly greeted by the always smiling Maggie who sat in the front passenger seat. Joyce was slumped in the back seat behind Angelo, a baseball cap pulled down over her eyes, her long brown hair sticking out from under the hat. Her knees were drawn up to her chest with her arms wrapped around her legs. Denny had never seen her looking so despondent before.
"Hi," Denny greeted, trying to sound cheerful for the morose looking Joyce but she didn't bother acknowledging him.
Denny wished he could find a way to sooth and comfort Joyce but he knew now was not the time to confuse her by implying in anyway how he really felt about her. It was his job to be a friend and nothing more during her difficult moodiness.
Denny heard the music on the tape player and he realized that Angelo was playing Saintly Marcus. He could only hope that wasn't going to be on the whole way. Denny adored Angelo and Maggie but sometimes their spiritual zest and positive outlook rubbed him the wrong way. Couldn't they put on sports radio at least for a little while!?
Joyce didn't have much to say and Denny let Angelo and Maggie dominate the conversation during the drive. Denny actually didn't have much to say either, uncertain about his future now that he was done with community college. He wasn't interested in continuing on to a four year college but he didn't have a career lined up knowing that his part time job making sandwiches at Subway wouldn't be a lasting choice. Denny's parents were patient but he knew they wouldn't let the twenty year old live at home forever.
If Joyce said more than three words the entire ride Denny didn't remember them but he couldn't blame her for feeling blue. Her dad was a well known and popular cop in the community and Denny had several memories of Joyce and her Dad happily together. Denny was surprised when Joyce's mom moved out of the house during the spring of senior year because he thought Joyce's parents looked happy whenever he saw them together. Everybody thought Joyce and Holt would be together forever too so when they broke up it was big news even though Denny was okay with it because he thought Moore was a self-centered dink.
Denny went to the wake and funeral for Joyce's Dad (along with about a thousand other people) but he didn't know what to say to Joyce and that was pretty much how he felt now as they sat in the backseat travelling to Summer Beach, Joyce looking like she was still at the funeral seven months later. Luckily, Angelo and Maggie talked enough for all four of them and the ride went surprisingly quickly, even with Angelo playing all three Saintly Marcus tapes (the first one twice).
It was an overcast drizzly day but it was too early in the season for swimming in the cold Atlantic anyway so it didn't matter much. Denny liked the last few miles to the beach once they left the highway and drove past the salt marshes, water tower and a couple of fishing huts. Joyce sat up in the seat when she saw the ocean appear as the car came out from behind the buildings and Denny was relieved that they had arrived without difficulty or incident. The beach was relatively empty except for an occasional jogger and dog walker and the boardwalk was fairly deserted with only a handful of businesses open for the season even though it was a Saturday in mid May.
Angelo pulled the car to a stop at the curb in front of Sal's Slices, a small pizza business nestled between a water taffy place and a tee shirt shop.
"How long has it been?" Angelo asked sadly as he stared at the metal window cover over the closed business.
"This will be the second summer closed," Denny sighed.
"How long did your aunt and uncle run it?" Maggie asked.
"Fifty years," Denny answered proudly. "With help, of course. They also had a year round shop in Kittery."
"Is that still open?" Angelo wondered.
"Yeah, my cousins run it," Denny said. "They haven't figured out what they want to do with this place though."
"The property must be worth premo," Maggie said.
Joyce turned her attention from the ocean and glanced at the building for the first time. "This is where you'd disappear to in the summer?"
Denny was impressed that Joyce even noticed his absence. "For three seasons when I was sixteen, seventeen and eighteen," Denny confirmed staring at the pizza shop with nostalgia.
"What a great place for a summer job," Joyce said with appreciation. "I would have come if you invited me."
Denny was surprised by her comment and he wanted to tell her that had been his fantasy for years but Angelo interrupted before he could respond.
"I came up a few times," Angelo bragged.
"You have a pizza name," Denny joked.
"Why don't you take this place over?" Joyce asked.
Denny was stunned by the suggestion, especially coming from Joyce who he figured could have cared less about any of this. "I don't have a pizza name," he answered.
"Well, you could still call it Sal's," Maggie laughed.
Angelo drove the car around the corner to the alley running behind the strip of buildings on the block, parking in a slot next to a wooden structure that looked like a partial cottage built into the cement foundation of the original structure. They climbed out of the car and Angelo dug the bags out of the trunk while Denny fished a key out of his pocket, opened the old metal screen door and unlocked the heavy wooden inside door.
The four stepped into a small, quaint interior - an entryway that led into a kitchenette. Off of that was a small living room area and beyond that was a small hallway with two cramp bedrooms and a miniature bathroom. The walls were pleasantly decorated with Sailboats wallpaper, seascape paintings, and other beach themed decorations and artifacts. There was a rustic feel to the place even though there weren't many windows or a whole lot of room.
"What's through that door?" Joyce asked, gesturing to a thick door on the other side of the kitchenette.
"What used to be Sal's Slices," Denny said with sadness.
"Can I see it?" Joyce asked and Denny was flattered that she was interested.
Denny went to the heavy door and unlatched the three dead bolts, opening it to reveal the long deep pizza shop with several metal counters, two large pizza ovens, three large service refrigerators, a preparation counter, two soda coolers, a television, a radio, a ice cream machine, and several stools. The shop was clean and empty of all perishables and there was something lonely about the deserted space.
"You can see the ocean when you open the metal window, of course," Denny revealed. "It's a nice view."
"I can imagine," Joyce smiled for the first time all day.
"I hate seeing it empty like this," Denny sighed as they returned to the living quarters. He closed the heavy door and re-bolted it.
Angelo and Maggie were setting up camp in the second bedroom which surprised Denny.
"I figured you'd want your aunt and uncle's old room," Angelo explained when Denny and Joyce stepped into the doorway.
Denny didn't think that Maggie would share a room with Angelo and he assumed the girls would bunk together given Angelo and Maggie's strong Faith life but maybe he was naive in such things.
"I can sleep on the couch out there," Denny said as he led Joyce to the first bedroom.
"It's okay," Joyce replied. "It's a big bed and that couch looks kind of ratty."
"That's where I slept when I worked here," Denny replied.
"I'm going for a walk," Joyce announced, pulling her light rain coat out of her bag that she tossed in the corner of the room.
"Do you want me to come?" Denny offered hopefully.
"No," I need some alone time," the solemn Joyce said with a forced smiled. "The ocean is a good place to get mellow, I hope."
"It is," Denny assured her with a knowing smile, watching as she walked out of the room while wondering if she would cheer up before the trip was over.
Denny stepped out of the room and into the kitchenette. He swore he could still smell the pizza sauce even though the place had been dormant for more than a year. He remembered the pancakes his Aunt Meme used to make in the kitchenette before the work day started. He leaned against the small counter and sighed thinking about his aunt and uncle, poor Sal dead and dear Aunt Meme wasting away in the nursing home.
Meme was laboring the last summer Denny worked here and his cousin Jimmy expressed concern about her health. Sal was as strong as an ox and working twelve hour days but he went to bed one night after working a long shift at the Kittery shop that October and never woke up. That's when Jimmy closed the beach store while he and his siblings considered their options. The family owned the beachfront property which was worth a lot of real estate dollars and the debate was whether to sell the place outright or reopen with a new team.
Denny never thought about the possibility of running Sal's until Joyce said it. Ah, it would never work out. Even if he opened in April and didn't close until October, what would he do the other five months of the year? Besides, he wasn't Uncle Sal or even a businessman. He'd probably run the place into the ground. He never thought about leaving Hillsboro either, his hometown that he loved.
Denny heard giggling and he looked up as Angelo and Maggie came out of the other bedroom. It was strange to see them acting so goofy but they were probably feeling romantic and free being on their own (both still lived at home while attending nearby Green College). Summer Beach was Denny's territory having spent so much time here but he still felt like the intruder as he watched Maggie whispering into the grinning Angelo's ear.
They suddenly became aware of Denny's presence and pulled apart, embarrassed to be seen giddy in front of their friend.
"Where's Joyce?" Maggie asked, glancing around.
"She went to throw herself in the ocean," Denny sarcastically replied.
"I'm kidding," Denny replied, surprised at how upset Maggie reacted.
"I'm really worried about her," Maggie admitted heavily. "She's been depressed for a while now."
"The ocean is magical," Denny replied. "It will do her good being here."
"Maybe it's time you did her some good," Angelo remarked.
"What the hell is that was supposed to mean?" Denny asked with a frown but then Joyce came through the door, wet from her walk and Angelo wasn't about to answer the question.
"It's sort of a misty drizzle," Joyce said, taking off her ball cap and shaking out her hair and that move struck Denny as an unintentional seductively sexy gesture.
"Where'd you go?" Maggie asked with concern.
"For a walk," Joyce shrugged and then she rolled her eyes when she saw the way Maggie was looking at her. "Don't worry Mags, I wasn't going to take a long one way walk into the Atlantic."
"I wasn't thinking that," Maggie lied.
"Don't you like it here?" Angelo asked hopefully.
"It's invigorating," Joyce admitted.
"On days like today," Denny agreed. "But in the summer when it's 95 degrees and there are a million people here wanting pizza it's not quite so mellow."
"We're going to that grocery store around the corner," Angelo asked. "It'll be open, right?"
"Sure," Denny answered, taking a twenty out of his wallet and handing it to Angelo. "Get some junk food and soda."
"We were thinking sandwich meat, milk, cereal..."
"That's fine," Denny replied, cutting him off. "Get whatever you want - but get the snacks and Pepsi too!"
Angelo grunted but took the money and a moment later he and Maggie were out of the living quarters with an umbrella over their heads.
"Feel better?" Denny asked the quiet Joyce.
"Relatively," she answered indifferently. "Saw a huge dog running in the waves."
"If it was a huge black fur ball that's Comet, Mr. Swanson's dog - he runs the Fish Shack on the next block."
"Your ass is all wet," Denny observed when Joyce turned to put her rain jacket on the back of a chair.
She was surprised that he had noticed her backside. "I was sitting on the stone wall," she said, placing her hand on the denim material to feel it.
"I'll turn the heater on," Denny said gesturing to the old brown electric appliance in the living area. "It's kind of damp and cool in here anyway. You can rest your buns against it."
He stepped past her and cranked the old machine on. It groaned and made other funny noises but eventually the coils inside turned orange and heat began to come out of the vent. Joyce stood with her rear to the coils.
"Sorry you're going through such a hard time," Denny said as he stood in the entryway to the kitchenette observing her as if he was so mental health professional.
"Sorry about your aunt and uncle," Joyce replied. "I bet it feels sad here without them."
"Are you going to be okay?" Denny wondered.
Joyce's gaze dropped down to the floor. "I don't know," she admitted.
"Give it time," Denny urged. "The heat toasting your buns?" He asked with a smirk.
"I think it's drying," she said without emotion.
She leaned back and closed her eyes, enjoying the sensation of warmth. Dennis folded his arms across his chest and watched her, remembering how cheerful, spunky and happy-go-lucky she used to be. Joyce was a good match for Maggie because both girls were so energetic and enthusiastic. It felt sad to see Joyce so lifeless now. She opened her eyes and noticed Denny staring at her.
"What?" She frowned.
He shrugged. "I just wish there was something I could say or do to make you feel better," Denny replied.
"Sometimes I think I'm just feeling sorry for myself," Joyce admitted. "That I'm supposed to just get over it and get on with my life but its hard to do that when you know your life is never going to be the same again."
"It's not supposed to be," Dennis countered.
She looked at him and smiled, feeling like she was actually being heard. "Thanks," she said quietly.
"You don't have to try to fake it with me, Joyce," Denny told her. "I know you well enough to know when you're going through hell."
"I don't want to wreck Angelo and Maggie's good time," she sighed.
"They're going to have a good time no matter what," Denny grinned.
"They always do," Joyce realized.
"Do you even like Saintly Marcus?" Denny grinned.
Joyce sheepishly shook her head no. "I'm so mad at God right now that I could care less about any of that crap."
"That's okay," Denny replied.
Joyce brushed her hand through her damp hair and sighed. "I miss my Dad," she confessed.
"I know," Denny said.
"Well, it feels like you're the only one then," Joyce sighed.
Denny had the sudden urge to hug her and hold her but he knew he shouldn't. It had never been like that between them. Holt Moore was the love of her life and Denny never tried to compete with that. He was accustomed to playing the role of the fourth in the friendship foursome, happy to escort Joyce to balance the group with Angelo and Maggie. Denny had a few girlfriends in high school but none that rang his bell like Holt did for Joyce and he hadn't found anybody at BCCC that captured his interest either. It suddenly felt sort of strange to be with Joyce now, like this - with her vulnerable and sad, Holt Moore long gone from the picture.
Joyce was trying to figure out what she was doing in the living quarters of abandoned Sal's Slices at rainy Summer Beach waiting to go listen to a Christian Rock Band that she could have cared less about. And why was Denny looking at her like that? Did he think she was a loser now? No boyfriend. College drop out. Dead dad. Estranged mother. No future. God, how did she become so pathetic? She was never like this before. Hurting all the time, a continuous pain deep in her chest, her heart broken in so many ways. She didn't know how to tell Denny what she was feeling because she really didn't know herself.
"You're going to be okay, Joyce," Denny predicted, tilting his head slightly.
"You think so?" She wondered with defeat.
"It's in your name," Denny explained. "Joy."
"That's what my father always used to say," she whimpered, wanting to cry.
"I know" Denny smiled. "I remember that sign he used to bring to all your softball games."
She tipped the ball cap on her head in a watery-eyed salute. "That was my Dad."
The door opened and Angelo and Maggie returned from the store, each with two grocery bags in their hands.
"We're back!" Angelo announced in his usual cheerful mood.
Maggie set her bags on the counter and pulled a coffee-to-go cup out of one of the bags. "Here," she said, holding it out toward Joyce. "I thought you could use this."
Denny took the cup from Maggie and passed it to Joyce who remained warming by the heater. "Thanks," she said.
"Everything okay?" Maggie worried.
"I'm not suicidal so you can relax, Mags," Joyce said sarcastically.
"I never thought you were suicidal," Maggie said defensively.
"Hmmm," Joyce replied knowingly. "Why am I here then?"
"We always do stuff together," Maggie pouted.
'It's all good," Denny spoke up, not wanting to see the two friends get into an argument.
"We'll make sandwiches," Angelo piped in, gesturing for Maggie to join him at the kitchenette counter in an effort to defuse the tension.
Joyce took a seat on the couch and Denny joined her, offering her a small smile of encouragement as she sipped on the coffee.
"Thanks for the coffee," Joyce said with polite pleasantness, making an effort to put things back on an even keel.
The sandwiches were good and the four ate t in the living area while Angelo told a funny story about the teenager working one of the registers at the neighborhood grocery store. When they were done eating, Denny cleaned up while Angelo and Maggie went into their room. Denny had a feeling it was because Maggie was miffed at Joyce's moodiness but she was too nice to say anything about it.
"I hate being a bitch," Joyce sighed when she and Denny were alone again. "I just can't seem to get out of this rut I'm in."
"We all go through bad times," Denny offered with understanding. "Don't be so hard on yourself. You have a right to be upset about your circumstances."
"You don't think I'm being a moody jerk?"
"You're just feeling what you're feeling," Denny shrugged as he took a seat on the couch next to her. "What's the worst thing that's ever happened to Maggie? It's easy being bubbly and cheerful and upbeat when you're life is perfect."
"Her cat died," Joyce said sympathetically. "That was pretty traumatic."
"Wasn't that like Freshman year?" Denny frowned.
Joyce giggled. "Do you think she's over it?"
Denny smiled. "I'm sure she believes he's in Kitty Heaven."
"My mother keeps telling me to get over it," Joyce complained unhappily. "That's what she said when Holt and I broke up. That's what she said when she left my father. And that's what she's been telling me for the past few months. 'Get on with your life' and 'It's been months' and 'when are you going to get off the pity pot?' Gee, Ma, sorry I'm upset that my father's dead."
"She probably doesn't want to have to deal with the guilt," Denny theorized. "Maybe she feels kind of responsible for causing the stress that might have led to his ruptured Aorta."
"Doctor said it was probably a birth defect," Joyce sighed. "But I like the idea of blaming my mother better!"
Denny gave her a playful smirk. "Maybe turning the anger outward instead of inward will help."
"I don't want to get arrested for murder, Den," she joked.
It was nice to see her spontaneously smile.
"So you're not going back to Rutgers?"
She made a face and shook her head no. "It just doesn't matter anymore."
He didn't want to question her reasoning or criticize her decision by saying something that might upset her. "Well, I'm sure you'll figure out what you're going to do when you're ready," he offered instead.
"My mother wanted me to be ready months ago," Joyce complained. "If I'm not going back to college I have to get a real job and move out of the house."
"You have a real job," Denny said.
"My mother doesn't think twenty hours a week washing towels at the spa is a real job," Joyce replied.
"Yeah, that's what my parents say about my job at Subway," Denny remarked with some resentment.
"So what are you going to do?" Joyce asked.
"I don't know either," Denny admitted.
"I never realized how much we have in common," Joyce said, looking at him with interest. "I really need to get out of my mother's house. It's unbearable, we're always fighting, and I don't get along with the guy she's with."
"Everybody was so excited senior year talking about graduating and moving on but I wasn't one of them," Denny remarked. "I really didn't want to have to grow up and move on. I liked the security, familiarity and comfort of my life. I liked having my mother make my supper for me. I liked the clean sheets on my bed. I liked knowing that my parents were there for me everyday. I liked not having any responsibility or obligations other than to show up at school and bring home a good report card. I looked forward to seeing you guys everyday. I miss being a kid" he sighed.
"You have no choice now," Joyce told him. "Unfortunately."
"I know," he sighed.
"I embraced Maggie's philosophy most of the time growing up," Joyce said, sounding almost bitter. "I convinced myself that I belonged in this storybook world with the prince of a boyfriend and the best family ever and I lived in a delusional world where nothing could ever go wrong. Then my mother is telling me that she's unhappy in her marriage and my little snow globe fake world fell apart. My mother's moving out, I'm breaking up with the prince and nothing was the same ever again."
"I'm really sorry, Joyce," Denny told her with sincerity.
"I think of one of the reasons I'm having such a hard time with my father's death is because it just doesn't seem fair," Joyce admitted. "He's the one who gave me joy. He's the one who kept me motivated and focused. Told me to go to Rutgers. Told me how proud he was of me and how special I was. He was the only one in my life who truly cared about me. And then he was gone, denied of the pleasure of seeing me make him proud."
"He was already very proud of you, Joyce," Denny reminded her.
"Do you think he'd be proud of me now?" Joyce asked sadly, brushing a tear from her eye.
"You wouldn't be going through this if he was still here," Denny said. "You'd be done with your second year at Rutgers living in your snow globe world with him where you were safe and happy."
"I miss the snow globe," she said, crying openly now.
Denny awkwardly put his arms around her and he let her cry into his shoulder. "I care about you," he whispered.
She muffled her sounds into his body because she didn't want to draw attention from Maggie and Angelo in the bedroom.
"Its okay, Joyce," Denny soothed.
She swallowed hard and tried to pull herself together, embarrassed by her unexpected break down. "Sorry."
"Don't be," Denny urged as he rubbed his hand through her hair.
Joyce sighed and patted his arm with appreciation. "You're a nice guy, Den" she said warmly.
It was probably the nicest thing she ever said to him. "I try to be," Denny smiled, glancing at her with a new insight.
Joyce returned the stare and she felt strangely comfortable and relaxed being with him like this during such a vulnerable time in her life. She had known him forever, it seemed, but he was Angelo's friend and part of the group and she never considered him as a possibility of anything more. She hadn't been very serious about relationships since the end of Holt and her parents' marriage, convinced she'd never trust love again. But here she was sitting on the couch with Denny, nestling against him actually, and it felt kind of nice. So nice that she began to doze off and Denny did the same and it wasn't until Angelo and Maggie out of their bedroom an hour later that the two stirred from the couch.
Angelo and Maggie were bemused to see their friends snuggled on the couch together and even more good humored by Denny and Joyce's reaction when they were found out, reacting like two young teenagers caught by their parents smooching in the family room.
"Oh, I guess we fell asleep," Denny said with embarrassment as he jumped from the couch.
"Wake up, Little Suzy," Angelo sang like he was one of the Everly Brothers.
Joyce blushed as she stood too. "Very funny, 'Lo," she said.
"I think it's cute," Maggie offered with a happy grin.
Joyce excused herself and went into the bedroom, leaving a sheepish Denny behind to face the amusement of his two friends.
"My secret plan is working," Maggie grinned.
"We'll have you two married before the weekend is over," Angelo joked with a knowing smirk.
"Knock it off," Denny frowned. "Joyce didn't come here looking for romance."
"Nobody's ever looking for romance, Denny," Maggie replied. "It usually just happens. Especially with a little bit of intervention from God."
"Or perhaps Saintly Marcus!" Angelo grinned.
"I wouldn't hold your breath," Denny warned as he headed for the bedroom. "I gave up years ago."
"What?" Joyce asked with annoyance when Denny entered the room and closed the door behind him. "They actually think if we have a tryst all my problems will go away and I'll be happily ever after?"
"They just want you to cheer up a little," Denny explained. "They didn't mean anything by it." He fell onto the bed and watched while Joyce went through some of her clothes in her bag on the floor.
"I never should have come here," she growled. "I don't want to have to put up with Maggie's silly adolescent fantasies about love, romance, and God."
"You've been friends with her long enough to know she lives in a goofy unrealistic world," Denny laughed. "Don't let it get to you."
"I actually believed that crap when I was with Holt," Joyce admitted. "I'm not that dumb anymore."
'Thanks a lot, Holt," Denny thought to himself. His slim to none chances before were even more miniscule now!
"Cynical at love is another sad reality brought about by growing up," Denny remarked.
"Christ, Denny," she moaned. "You're as bad as me."
"What do you mean?" He asked defensively.
"Sounds like you're feeling sorry for yourself too," She said as she stood and stared at him with a few articles of clothing in her hand.
Denny shrugged. "Sometimes," he admitted. 'Mostly about you' he wanted to say but didn't. "But I'm not as pissed off as you seem to be."
"Your mother didn't betray your family and your father didn't die on you," Joyce snapped angrily.
Denny realized that Joyce was holding a bra in her hand and that made him feel self-conscious especially since Joyce had just made it clear that she wouldn't be interested in romance for a long time to come.
"Oh, don't mind me," Joyce muttered. "I don't even know who I am anymore."
She kicked off her shoes and peeled down her jeans, surprising Denny who saw her long meaty legs.
"My underwear is damp," she complained, holding up a fresh pair of panties in her hand.
She turned her back and before Denny could protest she peeled her damp underwear down her legs, revealing her bare ass for him to see for the first time.
"I'm right here," Denny choked as he couldn't help but admire her exceptional backside.
"So what?" She growled as she put the new undies on.
"Are you trying to torture me?" Denny protested.
"What, am I turning you on?" She asked sarcastically as she turned to face him, brushing a strand of her hair off her forehead.
"Well, yeah!" a red faced Denny admitted, trying to stay calm as he admired her in her undies and tee shirt.
She gave him a funny look, surprised by his admission and a strange look came over her face as if she understood something for the first time. "Maybe I shouldn't have done that," she realized. "I guess I wasn't thinking."
"It's okay," Denny told her. "Made the trip worth it!"
"Shut up!" She snarled, blushing with embarrassment. "I'm going to go take a shower," she announced, looking slightly uncomfortable as she grabbed some of her stuff and left the room.
Denny watched her leave, seeing at her in a whole new way after catching a glimpse of something he never thought he'd be honored to have a peek at. He was surprised at how flustered he was from Joyce's momentarily lapse in modesty. He probably should have looked away but he couldn't, intrigued and moved by the sight. And when she turned around and saw the look on his face he knew something passed between them that was different from before. Maybe she had had been absentminded in her accidental moon shot or maybe she intentionally wanted to let him know that she trusted him and was comfortable with him even in her sorrow and misery.
What was going on? Denny had always been attracted to Joyce but she was stuck on Holt and she never returned such an interest. But Holt was gone now and Denny couldn't help but wonder if they were both falling prey to some complicated new reality between them. Was this crazy? Stupid? Or – as Maggie would argue – meant to be? Denny shook his head with bemused confusion as he sprang off the bed and left the room, wanting Joyce to have her privacy when she returned from her shower.
Maggie and Angelo were sitting on the couch chatting when Denny emerged from his room.
"Where you going?" Angelo asked as Denny headed for the outside door.
"A walk," a breathless Denny replied without looking back, not wanting to have to admit that maybe there was something to Maggie's intentions.
The rain had let up and the sun was trying to break through the still overcast sky, warming the air enough to dry off some of the excess wet spots and Denny found a dried wood bench on the beachfront walkway on the other side of the boulevard. He took a seat and peered out at the soothing ocean even though the surf was rough from the storm at sea. He liked the beach better when it was like this – mostly deserted and natural, absent of the summer crowds and excessive noise and activity. He sighed, suddenly feeling exasperated by the circumstances – his questionable job future, the demise of Sal's Slices, the death of Joyce's Dad, and the new and strange tensions beginning to percolate between him and Joyce.
Denny was wearing a hooted sweatshirt but he didn't need to put the hood up despite the stiff sea breeze. The air was crisp yet refreshing and he sat on the bench watching and listening to the seagulls scavenging for food while he thought about Joyce. He wasn't sure how long he sat there lost in his longing thoughts.
"Thinking about running away?"
Denny glanced up and smiled when he saw Joyce standing at the end of the bench looking at him.
"I guess we already have," he replied, gesturing at their surroundings.
"Yeah, I guess you're right," Joyce said as she took a seat next to him. "I meant running away from me though."
"Why would I want to do that?" Denny asked.
She shrugged and smiled tentatively, not looking quite comfortable as she glanced at him. Denny sucked in his breath and looked out at the ocean in front of them before exhaling with a sigh. "I will stay be your side forever, Joyce," he announced.
She peered at him with a shocked impression but then looked out at the ocean and remained quiet for a moment.
"I like it here," Joyce finally said as a gust of sea breeze blew in their faces.
"Me too," Denny replied as he noticed that they were sitting close enough so that their thighs were touching. He felt warmed the contact.
Joyce peered at the sky with the gray clouds successfully masking the sun that had been trying unsuccessfully to break through. "It's very peaceful here."
"Yeah." Denny glanced up at the gray clouds too. "It's easy to forget about stuff here."
She raised an eyebrow. "Are you trying to forget something'?"
"I like remembering things," he responded, throwing her a look. "Don't you?"
"Sometimes," she admitted.
Denny subtly moved his hand along the bench until it was touching hers where it gripped the end rail of the bench seat. She smiled and moved her finger so it was touching his. Denny felt his heart began to thump in his chest.
"I remember everything we ever did together," Denny revealed.
Joyce's mouth fell open and she didn't know how to respond. "Angelo is getting anxious," she finally said. "We should probably head back."
"Okay," Denny agreed as he patted her hand before standing. He reached his hand out and she took it as he helped her to her feet. "We wouldn't want to keep Saintly Marcus waiting," he said humorously.
Joyce laughed as they crossed the street together.
Back in the living quarters, Denny quickly changed into some dress jeans and a polo shirt. Angelo and Maggie were both dressed in completely white clothing while Joyce was wearing a yellow sweater and khaki pants.
Angelo and Maggie were excitedly talking about the concert even before they left the living quarters.
"The world is changing and with each generation the styles of music do too," Angelo was explaining as they walked along the boardwalk. "Today's Christian Rock Bands of worship have strong faith and that makes the music more meaningful."
"I like contemporary Christian music like Saintly Marcus because it's in step with today's music styles but still contains the traditional Christian messages in the lyrics," Maggie added. "Many Christian rockers are devoted to their Christian Faith and they stick to their faith roots instead of being tempted to become Secular rockers."
Denny nodded in agreement although he really didn't know too much about what his friends were talking about. They stopped at a restaurant and had salad and chowder. Angelo and Maggie clearly excited about the concert and that was the main focus of the conversation while they dined.
Finished with dinner, the four headed on to the playhouse, Angelo wanting to be in line plenty early. Denny wasn't sure if they were going to come across Jesus freaks and people reciting Bible verses and others holding 'end of the world' signs but most of the people in line looked like normal folks seen at any venue.
Once inside the playhouse, Denny saw that the stage was lit the same as it would be for any concert and once Saintly Marcus came out on stage there was the same energy, lighting, and singing to the music as there would be at other concerts except that some of the lyrics were noticeably spiritual. The music was upbeat and positive, not necessary loud but still with a beat and rhythm that was enjoyable. There were some good drum riffs and some amazing guitar solos, along with some memorizing keyboard playing. Fans knew the words to most of the songs and they sang along with Saintly Marcus dressed mostly in jeans, black tee shirts, and the occasional flannel shirt. There were three guitar players, a drummer, two keyboard artists, and three female singers, one playing the piano.
Denny had to admit that Saintly Marcus put on a great show. They engaged with the audience, they interacted well amongst themselves, and the music was enjoyable with the reoccurring themes being about Jesus, God, Heaven, peacefulness, serenity, prayer, belief, trust, happiness and love. Denny actually felt uplifted as he listened to the music and thought about the messages. Even the overtly religious renditions - likeSee all 2 photos
Blessed be the Name of Jesus – weren't offensive in the least. Between numbers, the various band members told stories about songs and experiences, including Princess Angel which was about spending time with their children before they grow up. There were plenty of faith testimonials and even though Denny wasn't particularly religious he felt uplifted by the concert.
Denny noticed that Joyce seemed to be equally into it, especially when the lead singer talked about the recent death of his father and dedicated a new song (Heavenly Father Please Welcome My Father) in his memory. Denny thought he saw Joyce brushing a tear from her eye at one point.
Denny was surprised that he was actually disappointed when the concert ended and he was just as excited and energetic as Angelo and Maggie about the experience as they ushered out of the playhouse along with the other concert goers. Denny took Joyce's hand in his so they wouldn't be separated in the crowd as they left the building among the buzz of the other concert attendees.
"Didn't I tell you it would be great!?" Angelo laughed.
"It was surprisingly uplifting," Denny had to admit.
The foursome walked home in pairs, Angelo and Maggie leading the way as they praised about how great the concert had been, Denny and Joyce walking behind them listening to their compliments and having a hard time disagreeing with the assessment. Denny was surprised to realize that he was still holding Joyce's hand during the stroll.
When they reached the living quarters, the four friends said good night and adjourned to their assigned rooms.
"Damn, I was afraid that was going to happen," Joyce complained once the door to their room was closed.
"What?" Denny asked as he sat on the edge of the bed and began taking off his shoes.
"That I might enjoy the stupid concert," she growled with annoyance as she undressed. "That Saintly Marcus might answer Maggie's prayers."
Denny chuckled as he unbuckled his jeans and took them off, careful not to take his underwear with them. "I have to admit I enjoyed it," he said. "There is an uplifting message in the music and lyrics. You can't help but feel good after getting caught up in the positive emotion of the crowd."
"Yeah, but if I don't stay pissed off that might mean I'm not grieving my Dad anymore," Joyce worried.
"You're always going to grieve your Dad, Joyce," Denny rebutted, giving her a long look. "But you don't have to be comatose or angry to do it."
"Maybe I want to be," she reasoned as she stood at the side of the bed in a sports bra and underwear and Denny tried not to stare at her appearance.
"Because if you aren't you're afraid that means you've forgotten?" Denny guessed.
She shrugged as she slipped under the covers on the far side of the bed. "I guess," she admitted.
"You're going to have to find the balance between grieving loss and living your life," Denny told her.
"I don't know how to do that," Joyce admitted.
Denny turned off the bedside lamp and slid under the covers on his side of the bed. "You'll figure it out," he predicted.
It was weird to be sharing a bed with Joyce like this. It had been a while since Denny shared a bed with anybody and he wasn't quite sure how he was supposed to act being so close to his long time. They were both lying on their backs staring at the ceiling. It was quiet enough to be able to hear the crashing of the ocean waves across the boulevard and even the lonely distant call of the lighthouse fog horn. There was a sliver of light from a street lamp peeking through the turned window shade to the right of Denny's head.
"What happened with Holt?" He had the courage to ask, never having heard the full story.
"Holt," Joyce groaned with displeasure. "The love of my life who it turned out loved himself more."
"When my mother left, I was a mess," Joyce recalled "I wanted to be there for my father who was acting like he was okay but I knew he was devastated. I was a wreck and I needed to lean on Holt for support and encouragement but he was so focused on his college preps and his sports stats that he was unable to satisfy my needs. I realized that he wasn't the kind of guy who was going to stick with me through thick and thin."
"I'm sorry," Denny said with sincerity.
"Same thing happened when Daddy died," Joyce revealed sadly. "The guy I was with at Rutgers couldn't even be bothered to come home with me for the funeral."
"Bastard," Denny grumbled.
"I know it," she sighed. "I deserved better, don't you think?"
"Definitely," Denny said, really meaning it.
They laid in a strangely comfortable silence for a few minutes as if this had been their nightly routine for months instead of sharing a bed together for the first time. He felt Joyce roll over and give him a quick kiss on the cheek.
"Thanks for being so understanding, Den," she said, finding his hand underneath the covers and giving it a squeeze. "You've always been so nice to me."
"It's easy to be nice to somebody like you, Joyce," he replied.
There was the booming rumble of thunder in the distant night and then the sounds of a heavy rain poured down, splashing against the outside glass of the window and pattering on the ground outside the window.
"Doesn't that mean God is crying?" Joyce sighed.
"Maybe its God washing away the sadness," Denny said. "Maybe tonight is a new start."
She continued to lay on her side facing him and Denny could feel her eyes on him even in the dark. "A start of what?" She whispered.
"I don't know," Denny confessed. "But maybe we can figure it out together." .
"It has to be a better year than the last couple have been," Joyce said frustration. "I can't take anymore misery."
"It's going to be okay," Denny assured her, listening to her soft breathing next to him. "You to deserve to be happy again, Joyce. The way I remember you."
"I'll never be that happy again," She said knowingly.
"It will be a different happiness," Denny told her. "You'll smile again," he predicted.
"You have more faith in me than I do," she rebutted tiredly.
"I've known you for a long time, Joyce," he reminded her. "Now that we're a little older I think back on all the stuff we said and did and I appreciate even more some of the little innocent slices of time and place we shared together, mostly through our mutual friendships with Angelo and Maggie. I always admired your zest for life and your ability to enjoy every moment of every day. I liked being around you just because you made me feel better."
"Those are times gone by," Denny she sighed. "They died with my father."
"No they didn't," Denny insisted.
"Well, my innocence did then," she countered.
"As I say goodbye to my innocence I know I'm blessed to have enjoyed a small circle of friends and family who care about me and I them," Denny told her. "I'm grateful to have been able to share life and laughs, joys and sorrow. I still feel like a kid again just thinking about those precious times even though this tomb that once was so full of Sal and Meme's life sort of haunts me."
"I think I would like swimming in the ocean every day," Joyce remarked thoughtfully. "It makes me think of my father because he grew up in Florida."
"Wouldn't you miss the hills of Hillsboro?" Denny asked. "The Blue River? Sunrise Lake? Johnny C's Diner? Beano Field? Our old neighborhood?"
"My mother ruined Hillsboro for me," Joyce sighed. "I want to make new memories. I'll always remember my father with tears and joy knowing he'll never offer me his wonderful lessons of life but his sage advice stays with me forever in my heart, giving me a sense of joy even in my grief."
"I can help you make a new memory," he whispered as the rain continued to splatter against the window.
"Go ahead," she pleaded, desperate to erase the past from her memory.
Denny leaned over and found her lips in the dark, pressing his against hers. He heard her gasp in the shadows but she didn't resist his advance and soon she was kissing him back and Denny came to realize that this was what he had always dreamed about as their mouths moved together in concert. Denny was encouraged when he felt Joyce's tongue pushing against his lips and he gladly opened his mouth to allow entrance.
"This wasn't supposed to happen," Joyce moaned into his mouth.
"Because I'm supposed to be grieving my father," she whimpered.
"You are grieving your father," Denny told her. "But you also need comfort and love and understanding and support and someone to be with."
Denny gently rubbed Joyce's thigh, slowly moving his hand up and down her warm skin and even under the elastic of her panties in an effort to console and relax her but they both knew she was being turned on to combat her sad and lonely grief.
"Are you sure?" She wanted to know.
"If you are," he replied. "I was sure five years ago."
"You were?" She asked with surprise. "Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"Holt Moore," he answered curtly.
"Oh God," she mumbled. "What a fool I was."
Denny felt Joyce's hands grab hold of his underwear and tug them down his thighs as he leaned in and kissed her again, his thumbs moving down to hook on the elastic of her panties waist band which he gently pulled down until his hands worked around to her backside and he was finally able to feel her exposed butt cheeks. Now he was as excited as she was and she was kissing him hard and with longing.
Denny felt his lower nakedness rubbing against her lower nakedness and it didn't take much maneuvering to find her opening and just like that, with the rain falling, the foghorn blowing, and the waves crashing beyond, they made slow and quiet love lying on their sides pressed together with Joyce silently weeping throughout the emotional encounter as Denny held her close and filled her emptiness and erased her loneliness just like that with the rain falling, the foghorn blowing, and the waves crashing beyond the window.
For Denny, it was the spiritual nightcap on an emotional day as the music of Saintly Marcus filled his soul with hope and peace and now he had Joyce by his side as she willingly shared herself with him in the most intimate and real way. Maybe Maggie knew what she was talking about all along.
They made love almost secretly without rocking the bed or making noise to tip off Angelo and Maggie in the next room and their stealth exchange was one of the most magical moments of Denny's life - he had never made love in slow motion before with each move and motion as sensual and complete as anything he'd ever experienced. Joyce whimpered into her newly discovered lover's chest when he brought her to completion and he moaned into her hair when it was his turn. And then they fell asleep still hinged together side by side with the rain and the ocean outside as their soothing lullaby balanced by their own peaceful breathing.
There was dim daylight in the room when Denny felt stirring in the bed. He opened his eyes to catch sight of Joyce slipping out of the bed with her back to him, naked except for her sports bra that she never took off. She turned to find her discarded panties underneath the covers and Denny caught a glimpse of her brown muff. Denny assumed Joyce was going to the bathroom and she would soon return so he contently fell back asleep after watching her turn her back to him again to put on her panties before leaving the room.
When Denny awoke again it was obviously later in the morning. He was surprised to find that Joyce was not back in the bed with him. He found his underwear under the covers and put them on as well as his jeans from the night before. He was still wearing his tee shirt. Denny stepped out of the room and heard the sounds of the ocean. He turned to see that the door to Sal's Slices was open and that the outside service window to the boardwalk was also open. Joyce was wearing cut off shorts and Denny's hooded sweatshirt from yesterday sitting on a stool at the window counter with her cheek buried in her fist staring out at the ocean.
The weather had cleared and the sun could be seen in the blue sky.
"Where's Angelo and Maggie?" Denny wondered as he shuffled toward the shop swallowing a yawn.
"They went to find a church somewhere," Joyce answered without looking at him. "I didn't think you'd be interested."
"I found my own church last night," he said happily.
Joyce glanced at him and smirked but she quickly looked back at the ocean. "I could stare at this all day," she said in wonderment.
"It is beautiful, isn't it?" Denny asked.
"Yes," she said dreamingly. "This is my new salvation."
Denny nodded in understanding.
"Wouldn't you like to live here all the time?" Joyce asked as she continued to view the scenery before them.
Denny knew what she was getting at it. "It takes a lot of work to run this place, Joyce," he warned. "Even with hired help, it's still twelve, fourteen, even sixteen hour days."
"Sixteen hours of looking at the ocean," she replied.
"You'd be willing to give your life to Sal's Slices?"
"I'd be giving my life to the ocean view," she replied with a wanting sigh.
Denny pulled a second stool to the front counter and sat next to Joyce, facing her. He pulled out his cell from his pants pocket and dialed a number.
"Jimmy? Hey, it's Denny…..yeah…..sorry….it's important….How long do you think it would take to get Sal's Slices up and running for business?...Maybe….yeah….me….I have a partner….."
Denny was grinning at the look on Joyce's face, her eyes wide and her jaw dropped.
"Sure…..we could do that…yes, we would…..that would be great…..hold on…"
Denny put the phone down. "Would you be willing to meet with Jimmy on Tuesday afternoon to discuss business plans and contracts?"
Joyce's eyes watered up as she nodded yes.
"Sure, Jim, that sounds great," Denny said into the phone. "We'll see you then."
Denny closed the phone and looked at Joyce. "You have your ocean view," he said.
"I can't believe you just did that!" An amazed Joyce said with disbelief.
"I like the ocean too," Denny replied with a shrug.
"You're willing to leave Hillsboro and give this a shot?"
"I'm willing to give us a shot," Denny replied.
Joyce fell off her stool and grabbed him in an emotional hug. "Nobody has ever been willing to do something like this for me before!" She exclaimed. "All the guys I've dated have been about themselves first. You're the first person who put me first. Oh my God, Denny, this is unbelievable!"
"Remember that sentiment when you're so tired in August that you can't stand straight or think clearly," Denny laughed, standing and hugging her back.
"I'll never complain," Joyce promised. "Why would you do this for me?" She needed to know.
"Because I love you," Denny replied, figuring it out for the first time. "And I want your view to have a slice."
"A slice of you," she said happily as she clung to him.