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The Good Guy's Lament

Surprise

 

Franny was bouncing on the balls of her feet for the last few steps to her car. We were coming out of my weekly Pound Shedders meeting with lots of other people who hadn’t lost very much weight. I wanted to tell her to keep it down or we’d appear to be boastful, but all I could do was smile as my kid sister bubbled over with pride. She squeezed my hand and squealed, “Another fifteen pounds! Oh Carlton, I knew you could do it.” She fished her keys out of her giant bag and put her hand on the car door. “I am going to make dinner for you. We have to celebrate. Do you remember that stir fry I made last Thursday? You liked that didn’t you?” I looked around the parking lot and I noticed that it was getting very dark, very fast.

 

“Don’t go to any special trouble for me. Whatever you have back at the house will be just fine.” I took the keys away from her and opened her door.

 

“Are you crazy? For the fourth week in a row you lost more than ten pounds. One more week like this, and you will beat the club’s record. The Pound Shredder’s founder didn’t have a record like yours. I know that you haven’t felt very special lately, Carlton. But you are and you should stop trying to make people ignore that. If the tables were turned, you’d probably throw me a party or something.”

 

“Don’t you throw me a party, Franny.” I gave her my best big brother voice.

“I won’t,” She put one foot into the door of her car, “If you promise to let me make you a terrific dinner, that you will enjoy without once uttering the words, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t have’.”

“Alright, already. Just do what you have to do. But do it quickly. It looks like it’s going to start raining again.”

She got into the car and I closed it behind her. I stepped back and watched her drive out of the parking lot of the community center and I walked to my car. As I approached it my driver’s side door, I could see a woman squatting on the ground behind a car on the row across from mine.

 

At first I thought I was seeing things. I hadn’t eaten all day and I had gone straight to that meeting after a really heavy workout. I put my hand on the car and had a long blink before refocusing on her. Yes, it was a woman squatting on the ground behind a car with her legs drawn up and her arms wrapped around them. I put my keys back into my pocket and I went over to find out if she needed any help.  My guess was that she must have spilled on the wet cement. I came around the back of her, bent down and asked, “Are you ok?”

 

She looked up at me with a start. “Holy…” Her hands went up and when she realized that I wasn’t who she thought I’d be, she relaxed. “Yes. I’m fine. Now please just walk away.”

 

I didn’t want to do that. I could tell that she was afraid of something. I whispered. “Are you in some kind of danger? I can call someone.”

 

“I don’t want you to do anything but get away from me.” She began to crab walk toward the next car then rolled in between them.”

 

It was definitely a weird scene, and I had no field of reference. What exactly do good guys do when they see a frightened woman crab-walking between cars in a parking lot? Good guys don’t get sucked into these predicaments. They wait to be called or asked for. So I came around the opposite side of the car where we were sitting and I slowly stood up, fishing in my coat pocket for my keys.

 

I gave the parking lot one last glance over as I got into my car. Then something came back to me. I knew that woman. She was the waitress from the coffee shop that I use to frequent back in my “all-you-could-eat days”. From the day I met her, I couldn’t stop thinking about her beautiful green eyes. She was so sweet and kind as she served me endless servings of waffles, scrambled eggs, and pie. I’d always thought that I would go back to that place, after I slimmed down, and ask her out.

 

I thought, “What are the odds?”

 

I use to sit at a table near the waitress station where I could hear her talk to another waitress about her hopes for the future. She wanted to finished journalism school after divorced her jerk of a husband.

 

It occurred to me that if it was my kid sister, I wouldn’t want her crawling around some parking lot alone on a rainy night. I started the car and I drove slowly through the lot in the area where I last saw her. I thought that if she waved me down before I got to the exit, that I would stop for her and try to help. But if she didn’t show up before I got to the exit, that I would keep driving home to have dinner with my sister.

 

Just before I got to the exit I heard a man call out in a very angry voice, “You bitch!” I turned the car in that direction and drove quickly toward where two people were standing. He was holding her by the arms and shaking her while she was doing everything to get free. I sped up to them and slammed my car into park.

 

“What’s your problem with her?” I started out of the car. She broke free of him at that same moment.

He aimed an aggressive finger at me and said, “This is none of your business. She’s mine!”

“Go, go, go,” She shouted as she got into the passenger side.

I got back in and drove like she told me. “Who was that guy?” I asked.

“Don’t talk. Just drive.” She ordered.

My head was reeling. All I wanted was a big plate of french fries. Then I got my head screwed on straight. I said, “I’m bringing you to the police station.”

“No you’re not.” She shook her head.

“But you were just attacked.” I said.

“Make a left here.” She pointed.

I looked in the rear view mirror, “That guy is following us.”

“Make another left.”

“This is not the way to the police station.”

“I said left, Fat-boy!” She screeched.

“You remembered me from the coffee shop?” I said in my best calming voice.

She stole a look at me. “How could I forget? Pull over here.”

I pulled to the shoulder as she asked, “There’s not much around here. I don’t think you want to be walking on this road in the rain, and that guy isn’t far behind…”

She turned to me and she said, “I know he isn’t far behind. He’ll be along real soon.”

With that she reached into her raincoat, pulled out a gun.

 

“You know I really wished that you hadn’t recognized me.” She said holding the gun on me. “I had a plan. When you came over and bent down to talk to me, he saw you. I just wish you weren’t such a nice guy. But I can’t live like this anymore.” Her beautiful eyes were beginning to fill with tears. I heard the other car pull up along my side, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the gun. Then she aimed it out of the window at the guy who had come to my window and she shot him. I heard myself scream.

 

“That’s when she gave me some kind of punch to the throat and pushed my head into the steering wheel. When I woke up there was the gun in my hand, a dead guy outside of my driver’s side door and a whole lot of police officers yelling at me.”

 

I could hardly breath. “It’s the truth. I swear!”

 

Suspense

 

He looked down the rows between the cars parked in the lot of the Community Center and he smiled brightly. His kid sister, Franny, was bouncing on the balls of her feet for the last few steps to her car. They were coming out of his weekly Pound Shedders meeting with lots of other people who hadn’t lost very much weight. He wanted to tell her to keep it down or they might  appear to be boastful, but all he could do was smile watching her bubble over with pride.

 

She squeezed his hand and squealed, “Another fifteen pounds! Oh Carlton, I knew you could do it.” Then she let go and fished her keys out of her giant bag. “I am going to make dinner for you. We have to celebrate. Do you remember that stir fry I made last Thursday? You liked that didn’t you?” He looked around the parking lot and noticed that it was getting very dark, very fast.

 

“Don’t go to any special trouble for me. Whatever you have back at the house will be just fine.” He took the keys away from her and opened her door.

 

“Are you crazy? For the fourth week in a row you lost more than ten pounds. One more week like this, and you will beat the club’s record. The Pound Shredder’s founder didn’t have a record like yours. I know that you haven’t felt very special lately, Carlton. But you are and you should stop trying to make people ignore that. If the tables were turned, you’d probably throw me a party or something.”

 

“Don’t you throw me a party, Franny.” He gave her his best big brother voice.

“I won’t,” She put one foot into the door of her car, “If you promise to let me make you a terrific dinner, that you will enjoy without once uttering the words, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t have’.”

“Alright, already. Just do what you have to do. But do it quickly. It looks like it’s going to start raining again.”

She got into the car and he closed it behind her. As she turned on the headlights, a guy went hustling passed the front of her car. They were both surprised, but it was short lived. He stepped back and watched Franny drive out of the parking lot while he walked to his car. Approaching his driver’s side door, he looked and saw a woman squatting on the ground behind a car on the row across from his.

 

At first he thought he was seeing things. He hadn’t eaten all day and he had gone straight to that meeting after a really heavy workout. He put his hand on the car and had a long blink before refocusing on her. Yes, it was a woman squatting on the ground behind a car with her legs drawn up and her arms wrapped around them. He put his keys back into his pocket and he went over to find out if she needed any help.  Carlton’s guess was that she must have slipped on the wet cement. He came around the back of her, bent down and asked, “Are you ok?”

 

She looked up at Carlton with a start. “Holy…” Her hands went up and when she realized that he wasn’t who she thought he’d be, she relaxed. “Yes. I’m fine. Now please just walk away.”

 

He didn’t want to do that. He could tell that she was afraid of something. Carlton whispered. “Are you in some kind of danger? I can call someone.”

 

“I don’t want you to do anything but get away from me.” She began to crab walk toward the next car then rolled in between them.”

 

A few stray curls were escaping from the front of her black ski cap. She took a second to hide them. Adam would expect to see her red hair and she was still hoping to get away from him.  If only she could get back to her car, she could be rid of him. Everything she cared about was in the car: the money, her clothes and her writing portfolio. He had a spare set of key and if he got to the car before she did, he would take it all away. He was going to steal her dreams right out from under her again. She couldn’t even think about it. Oh why did she have to stop here? Why didn’t she just keep driving. She didn’t really have to say goodbye to her friend Susan in person, but she couldn’t resist. She also had to tell Susan thank you for listening to her all through all those evening shifts at the coffee shop. She finally got a peek at Adam as he walked away from her. This was her chance and she took it.

 

Carlton sat in his car replaying what just happened. It was definitely a weird scene, and he had no field of reference. What exactly do good guys do when they see a frightened woman crab-walking between cars in a parking lot? Good guys don’t get sucked into these predicaments. They wait to be called or asked for. He gave the parking lot one last glance over and put the keys in the ignition.

 

That’s when something came back to him. He knew that woman. She was the waitress from the coffee shop that he use to frequent back in his “all-you-could-eat days”. From the day he met her, he couldn’t stop thinking about her beautiful green eyes. She was so sweet and kind as she brought him endless servings of waffles, scrambled eggs, and pie. He’d always thought that he would go back to that place, after he slimmed down, and ask her out.

 

He wondered, “What are the odds?”

 

He use to sit at a table near the waitress station where he could hear her talk to another waitress about her hopes for the future. She wanted to finished journalism school after she divorced her jerk of a husband. Carlton remembered the bruises he used to see on her skin.

 

He remembered something else. There was something in her raincoat just now. She was craddling something against her chest. She was an aspiring journalist, he thought, she might be on the trail of a story. He thought he should probably leave her to it.

 

But he couldn’t make himself go. It occurred to him that if it was his kid sister, he wouldn’t want her crawling around some parking lot alone on a rainy night. He started the car and he drove slowly through the lot in the area where he last saw her. He thought that if she waved him down before he got to the exit, that he would stop for her and try to help. But if she didn’t show up before he got to the exit, he would keep driving home to have dinner with his sister.

 

Just before he got to the exit he heard a man call out in a very angry voice, “You bitch!”

He turned the car in that direction and drove quickly toward where two people were standing. He was holding her by the arms and shaking her while she was doing everything to get free. Carlton sped up to them and slammed his car into park.

 

“What’s your problem with her?” He started out of the car. She broke free of Adam at that same moment.

Her husband aimed an aggressive finger at Carlton and said, “This is none of your business. She’s mine!”

“Go, go, go,” She shouted as she got into the passenger side.

Carlton got back in and drove like she told me. “Who was that guy?” he asked.

“Don’t talk. Just drive.” She ordered.

 

His head was reeling. All he wanted was a big plate of french fries. Her head was pretty stirred up too. All she could think was how she’s never be free unless she got her car back. She needed that car more than anything.

 

Then Carlton came to his senses and said, “I’m bringing you to the police station.”

“No you’re not.” She shook her head.

“But you were just attacked.” he said.

“Make a left here.” She pointed.

He looked to the rear view mirror, “That guy is following us.”

“Make another left.” She said.

“This is not the way to the police station.”

“I said left, Fat-boy!” She screeched.

“You remembered me from the coffee shop?” He asked in his best calming voice.

She stole a look at him and allowed a smile to creep into her voice. “How could I forget? You left the best tips.”

Then she wanted to slap herself for drawing him in. He couldn’t be a part of her future. Nobody from this town could. She straightened up. “Pull over here.”

He pulled to the shoulder as she asked, “There’s not much around here. I don’t think you want to be walking on this road in the rain, and that guy isn’t far behind…”

She turned to him and she said, “I know he isn’t far behind. He’ll be along real soon.”

With that she reached into her raincoat, pulled out a gun.

 

“You know I really wished that you hadn’t recognized me.” She said holding the gun on him. “I had a plan and when you came over and bent down to talk to me, my husband saw you. I just wish you weren’t such a nice guy... But I can’t live like this anymore.” Her beautiful eyes were beginning to fill with tears. Carlton heard the other car pull up along his side, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the gun.  She could feel her insides tremble like a struck gong, but she managed to keep her hand perfectly steady. Then she aimed it out of the window at Adam, who had come to the driver’s side window and she shot him. They each heard themselves scream.

 

That’s when she gave Carlton some kind of punch to the throat and pushed his head into the steering wheel. The beautiful, red haired girl ran over to her car, got in and drove away from the scene believing that she had killed them both.

 

Carlton was drawing in one ragged breath after another. “When I woke up there was the gun in my hand, a dead guy outside of my driver’s side door and a whole lot of police officers yelling at me. It’s the truth.” He said straining against the handcuffs in front of him, “I swear!”

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