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Dinner 4_1: Dinner 4_1

Dinner 4_1: Dinner 4_1

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Dinner 4_1: Dinner 4_1

Länge:
729 Seiten
9 Stunden
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Oct 31, 2020
ISBN:
9781393820994
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

There is something magical about the wealthy parts of Orange County, California, but lately, there is trouble in paradise. The kids at Northwood High are no stranger to theatrics. Yet each game night from August to Christmas, when the Knights play football, dreams do come true.

Northwood High's progressive administrative practices and educational policies encourage the importance of cultivating modern educational methods, namely online media for social expression among a disenfranchised student body. Northwood, known for both its top academic and football programs, is hailed nationwide for its gifted students and progressive enrichment programs and 'out of the box' learning programs. Marcus and Brady are Northwood Knights. Their squad and the entire city are fired up for finals versus long time Division 1 rivals Valley Tech.

In a place not so different from Orange and even smaller than Denton, there exists a sophisticated private emergency dispatch facility known as The Center For Natural Sciences. There is a complex chain of command within The Center, and employees are left largely unaware of the impact and end-goals of their service. The Center's directing staff safeguards many of its endpoint strategies, goals and tactics from its employees by enforcing strict privacy policies. These tactics, in the guise of ensuring the safety of its employees and service to Homeland security, are meant to ensure its longevity. The Center, led by a Director Jones, is staffed and engaged at all times. Its origins and operations are shrouded in secrecy.

It's only football and losing is just part of growing up. But when all hope is lost, what will we have left to fight for? What do a high school math teacher, a shrink, a celebrity rapper turned famed film star, a five-star running back, and a cop from Denton, Texas have in common? Not very much outside their love for American football—but that's the internet for you.

When you look closer, you might discover something real. It's too late for some of us, but your life might depend on it. And trust me, your kids will thank me.

In Dinner 4_1, there are no small towns.

Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Oct 31, 2020
ISBN:
9781393820994
Format:
Buch

Über den Autor

Always remember to recycle your obsolete drones.

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Buchvorschau

Dinner 4_1 - J.A. Thomas

Agent

By: J.A. Thomas

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except in the case of a reviewer, who may quote brief passages embodied in critical articles or in a review. Trademarked names appear throughout this book. Rather than use a trademark symbol with every occurrence of a trademarked name, names are used in an editorial fashion, with no intention of infringement of the respective owner’s trademark. The information in this book is distributed on an as is basis, without warranty. Although every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this work, neither the author nor the publisher shall have any liability to any person or entity with respect to any loss or damage caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly by the information contained in this book.

THIS IS A WORK OF FICTION. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

We must take care of each other.

-James O’Neill Jr.

He runs to her. His heart sinks into his stomach as the twenty steps from the gate to car 107 feels like a deep unforgiving ocean. His feet drag and tear against the sea of zebras and asphalt. He feels himself drowning in the grey. In this nightmare of waking life, seconds turn to hours and hours into eons. Her life flashes before his irises. He rushes the unit’s open window and is pulled off the car by two of his men. He’s three paces removed from the door – reaching forward into eternity.

The Little Storm is six pounds nine ounces and sunshine from head to toe. In his arms, she sleeps for the first time in her first blanket. It’s a Winnie the Pooh blanket that followed her from that sad hospital in Denton to their dusty studio apartment in the thick of the little dipper. The little yellow blanket grew rough and lost recoil over the years. Its satin liner tore and was sewn and resewn and sewn again. There is a tiny hole near the top of the blanket where Pooh’s red balloon floats into soft blue sky. Page refers to this part of the map as The North Star.

David collapses into his brother’s arms - his eyes swollen by fire and earth. He screams into black Kevlar, My baby needs her blanket. My baby. He grabs the officer closer, his tears streaming down his ebony skin, disappearing into rain and vest. My baby needs her blanket.

DINNER 4_1

I’ll eat alone tonight

Like I did last night

And the night before

I’ll put out a spot for you

Like I did last night

And the night before

I’M ONLINE

The towels speaking from the black tile flooring as if to mock. Why didn’t you just wash me last week?

It’s gross.

Brady collects the filthy rags from the floor. He buries one into his face to smell it as if he can gain her scent and feel her within it.

He sits hard into his chair and opens his notebook - the blue light beams back into him, erasing the darkness and illuminating his otherwise pitch-black room. He has to finish this letter tonight. He slows his breathing, chest rising slowly and releasing in a sigh. He closes his eyes and loses himself in garage memories.

Is it cliché to tell him I’ve idolized him since I was small? Brady thinks aloud into his open MacBook Pro - a gift for his near perfect SAT scores. His blonde-draped brow furrows just a bit, his forehead creases handsomely. This is the most important letter of his life, and he can’t even fathom a simple greeting. His fingers lay in repose on the keys - strokes awaiting and cursors flickering ahead of him like sirens. He intends on hand delivering the letter himself as he feels too much personalization and ingenuity is forgotten sans stamps, envelopes and email.

Dear Professor Gold, he opines, I’d like to thank you for inspiring me.

Brady, seldom introspective, finds difficulty in actions that don’t involve physical exertion or extroversion of the mind. An intellect and athlete, he rarely finds reasons for such matters outside this particular day. It’s 6:30 AM and nearly time to drive to campus. He shuts the lid and packs, completely unfinished with his assignment. This letter is due tonight at eight. Brady figures his Berkeley acceptance letter suffices for any assignment henceforth, especially in Ray’s History & Ethics course.

He releases the power cord - laptop and practice gear in bag and bounds to the garage outside his house. Before he ignites, he pauses and closes his eyes. He hears a siren from the opposite end of the street through the closed garage.

The Farmer house, built circa 1990 over an old post WWII track home lay almost center of its orange circle in Irvine, California - the power seat of a tree-lined cul-de-sac. The house is a two-story attribute to an ugly pending divorce, not indicating from its blue shutters that it played second witness to Brady’s mother Gayle rushing on a stretcher: three times in 2002 and once again in 2020. Built to open and close like Tupperware lids, blue panes revealing the interior and exterior of a dream home. Michael focuses on the siren and remembers the sound and the lights.

The blue lights reflecting on the seldom-opened panes of the Farmer home revealed three men and a woman (on February 2, 2002 and again in 2020) - three figures dressed in deep blue with solemn faces, as if the worst news were sealed in their razor-thin soldier lips.

Brady’s favorite song, entitled The Artist in the Ambulance, contains the lyric But how can I know image from life? He tries relentlessly to seal these days from his memory - one of which he is too young to recall fully, yet he is reminded in image and plight on a daily basis through the glassy reflection in his mother’s eyes.

These images of red and blue lights linger in the rearmost compartments of his mind. Brady adores first responders: from the EMTs that bring people back to life from car crashes and heart attacks, to the firemen who rescued countless lives from the heaping fallen Twin Towers. He idolizes them over most of his beloved educators and administrators at Northwood and writes of their valor in many of his news and opinion pieces, including his now infamous blog.

He deems most forms of academia as a cop-out for any real form of valor. While he does not include police officers into this lineage of heroism, he feels they do serve a purpose on a more mundane level - like parking meters with legs. Brady’s writings became more politically charged since the Officer Halestorm studies. He often refers to police as ‘bus drivers with badges’, a term he’s coined which has gotten him much online political attention on his blog. 

Motor in first gear of his Dodge Ram - a gift from his father - he remains at stand still, his right foot off the accelerator. The engine roars as the garage remains eyes-shut. Brady thinks wistfully of the sleep he’s neglected.

I need you to pick me up. John requires. Brady removes his cell from his ear and places his dad on speaker. He seldom takes his dad’s calls at anything less than full volume. In a way, this brings them closer.

Yes ... OK Dad, Brady responds, trying to hide the phlegm gathering in his throat, from the fight he had with his mother Gayle in the nights prior to the arrest.

Brady was a big deal at Northwood then and remains so now. Valedictorian - written up as Class Hottie in this, the graduating issue of his class of 409. These garage memories, and their sirens and lights, frequent Brady as he waits to drive off into a similar glory mirrored in his girlfriend’s brown eyes. 

THE CITY OF ORANGE

About an hour’s drive due north on the 55 from Irvine is a roundabout that hooks into the sycamore-lined suburbs of Orange. While its name signifies the groves that once covered blooming fields of citrus, there no longer exists a single orange tree or sapling in the city’s spread. The only oranges are found deep in Trader Joe’s and Vons Market 2578.

The air is uncommonly still and warm in Orange - its warmth looming softly on the city asphalt so as to cause a mirage about a foot up from its surface - scattering walkers’ legs and reflecting off Priuses and Camrys. Sometimes any given block horizon looks like a Rockwell, though modernized with skateboarders and shopping carts in lieu of bicycles and bipeds. It is flat yet lifted.

This orange-less town participates in a regional pie contest run by The Orange County Firemen’s Association to benefit the lives of firefighters killed or injured in the line of duty. This is one of those rare occasions when the streets lining the main row of shopping malls and town halls are cleared of cars and traffic - the air enriched once more with the scents of citrus, apple, peaches and sugar crust.

It is a battle of the wits as to who wins best pie. Of much controversy are those pies brought from The Police Officer’s Association of Orange County. As an ongoing lark, the POA traditionally brings cherry tarts to any fire event to lovingly signify the bitter rivalry between their coats of arms. Always in good jest, the POA pies come in last place at the pie contest. The rivalry spans three decades, running strong since the first slice.

Coastal Police, like the five other sister agencies invited to the festivities, are not in attendance. It's high volume at every agency like fairtime last year, and the year before that.

Winters in Los Angeles, like those in Denton, harrow a lingering note of solitude over the greying skyline. The rise in barometric pressure masks an otherwise unaltered state of affairs. People seem to walk faster as the days grow shorter, trying to escape the inevitable plummeting sun. One of David's favorite 'Encyclopedia Sarge' lines to the guys at coastal is Daylight Savings Time is for the farmers. His guys are unforgiving to White's Almanac sense of humor and oftentimes, the sound of eyes rolling is thicker than laughter when White's at the helm. Despite his horrible jokes, Coastal Station loves Sergeant White and accepts him, faults and all.

It's a particularly mild winter day - one of those that reminds David of how Texas sky can be still one moment and rip open something awful the next. He's thankful for this much about Los Angeles. It's training today and Elysian Park smells of hay, resin and earth. White thinks about how ironic it is that one should move so far from his first life in a barn to find himself back in the barn. He thinks about his grandmother on one of those runaway days where David managed to escape death yet again,

I don't know what it is about you that makes you a fighter baby. Her brown eyes, surrounded by circle and crow, smile and shine as she looks into his, caressing his brown skin with damp cloth, washing away gravel and blood, One day you're going to know why things happen the way they do. God is mysterious. David smells of urine and some of the blood is curdled with spit. They never take it easy on him when they find him alone.

Mary washes the cloth and applies pressure to the wound. Her brown hands collect droplets of blood from the now saturated white cloth. It's the same cloth she used to clean his fight from yesterday and the same cloth she'll use again tomorrow most likely. She smells the urine, but the bleeding has to stop. First things first baby. First things first.

David never cries. He's eight and he's never once shed a single tear. This is perhaps a product of his environment, but Mary is certain it is more than this. David was not born to cry, she believes. David was born to lead. During her time as a midwife, Mary oversaw the nan of over thirty children into their adolescence - all of whom cried during their birth and every spit milk off their mother’s breast as if they resisted the flesh that fed them from the get go. Still, Mary remained unsurprised by the stoic, soldier-like nature of her grandbaby. She knows of the mitochondria.

David pulls back his arm, closes his eyes tightly and looks away from his Nan's face. He's embarrassed of the smell and the loss. Mary's instinct is to embrace him harder now, but she's learned better over the years that those in constant pain and fight need time to grieve on their own. She lets David look away out the barn's open door. She doesn't say a word as he gets up - still soaked in bile and plasma - and walks towards the setting sun. He stares out onto the Denton skyline. It's grey and still with the type of winter air that only happens this far west in Texas. Suddenly, it begins to thunder.

David used to think that the status quo of season was a strictly a Texas thing before finding it again and again in LA. He fears sudden change like these ripped sunsets.

The leaves don’t change. David whispers, He thinks about his grandmother’s eyes. 

IN ORANGE COUNTY, IT is even harder to negotiate the changes in the seasons. Even the garments and fashions alone tell fibs about the weather outside. Northwood girls, however, remain particular about their choice of swimwear in the fall - sometimes selecting one pieces over bikinis and three-quarter sleeved jean jackets instead of hoodies. These sweet nothings, in a sense, mark the shift from summer to fall. One must look very closely to witness it, but change happens.

Page and Brady lay on his bed. She fastens the top button of her blouse in a rush although the Farmers aren't expected home this evening. It's date night but the two decided to spend yet another evening 'Netflix and chilling' as per Brady's request. The season is saturated with breakups, and mash ups and finals. The drama of the year has left the two in no rush to rejoice in events surrounding their peers. With Brady and Page, there is solace in each other.

These stay at home date nights became a regular Friday occasion since mid-Freshman year. Page and Brady were never ones to be markedly anti-social by any right, and put together, they share the spotlight. In the few years they've been a 'couple', however, the two, especially Brady, have become increasingly protective of one another.

Brady pulls Page back to the bed tenderly. He sweeps her face into his gently, cupping her braids and neck firmly in his palm. He tastes like sweat and pool water. He parts her lips with his fingers and says, You are the most beautiful person in this world.

Page smiles the smile only Brady recognizes. It's the smile her face permits when she's heard something she doesn't fully believe. Usually, Page reserves it for dealing with the general population of her admirers at Northwood, Brady's observed. This is the first occasion it's been directed towards himself.

What? He asks Page, abruptly shifting his body closer to hers.

What nothing babe. She says. It's not that Page doesn't believe that Brady finds her beautiful nor is it some deep seated insecurity about feeling beautiful. Her father taught her better than to rely on the definitions of man to label anything in her world. She is a butterfly.

For Page, the days spent studying with Marcus have left her desiring a different type of affection although - one that she can feel within her heart and soul and mind. Tonight, in his arms, like most of these nights spent together, Page feels beautiful. She feels beautiful, desired, and unloved all at the same time.

It's 78 degrees in this part of the coastline with a low of 68. Page brought her favorite jean jacket to wear on her bike ride home. She hopes that her dad won't notice her braids are wet from the Farmer's pool.

Still, much to her dismay, the sergeant always notices when Page has been swimming.

THE TRANQUILITY AND calmness envelopes the sleepy hillside bluffs as it breathes and wraps white picket fences in its sunlight fades into the twilight amidst a qualifying victory for the Knights. Brought back to a steady roar, the stadium stands are both relieved and excited with the win in the bucket versus Irvine Valley. Cheers can even be heard stemming from households in the sleepy neighborhoods adjacent to Northwood's stadium.

Knights' Hall, as it is referred to by the football program's loyalists from Orange County past Death Valley and the Appalachians, is Northwood’s newly erected stadium. Proposition B, as declared by popular vote, in last year's elections, unanimously granted funds intended for infrastructure developments to new "innovative community building projects'. Knights' Hall, clearly an extension of the founding principles of the Without Borders educational agenda, is the singular product of the proposition.

The approximately 1.2 million of 'excess funds' was originally intended for a plethora of wide spanning city planning projects, including the redesign of Northwood's Common Library which hadn't seen much of any improvement since a fire burned through half of the facilities in the 1970s. The general opinion of Northwood's city council and its sister cities was to set aside public donations towards improving the library and, since the library held extremely low patronship in the first place, it made sense to most council members that its renovation be tabled.

An additional ledger included using some of the excess money towards expanding the Coastal Police's hiring reach and extending at least some of this allocation to hire more EMTs and upgrading aging medical devices within the ambulance fleet. As it stood during the elections, Coastal Police and EMT remained the lowest paid police agency in the tri-county area. Finding themselves severely understaffed for the fifth year in a row, a few of the officers asked if they may attend the city meetings prior to the elections to be heard. Unfortunately, for Sergeant White (the only staffing Sergeant at Coastal with that decision-making power aside from Chief Bennox), understaffing meant understaffing and the meetings went unattended.

Since its unanimous vote in, Knights' Hall is surely to stand for generations to come as a mark of excellence. Coastal Police, especially football fans, are even proud to walk through the gates that some of the someday newest draft picks will drill through. Football is not just a game throughout these parks and picket fences. It's the dream.

Although David finds himself melancholy from time to time about the measure and the lack of funds, he keeps faith that the game will drive the community forward. He's even taken it upon himself to assume an active role on the Knight's coaching staff. Along with his bad jokes far too early in anyone's day, White oftentimes tells his guys motivational and poetic isms. The day he had to enforce OT on the two that wanted to attend the City Council meeting, he said, There's no shame in working from the sideline. Sometimes it’s those voices that echo in the wind that reverberate through time and are louder than shots fired on the field.

To which his guys replied in unison, Bullshit Sarge.

SLIP DREAMS

Joining the army to pursue teaching credentials seems an circuitous task by most. To the then fresh out of college 34-year-old with a degree in English Literature from a state school, it was one of the only ways and a quickly expiring means to fund his future. So, like most big decisions in his life, Monty decided to take the leap in blind faith, knowing very little about military service but willing to serve his country proudly, nonetheless. He is quite fond of the works of Tolstoy and Walden – the intersection of combat and Earth.

That first July at Fort Bragg was the first time Montgomery experienced real heat. And, much to his dismay, Carolina insects are Jurassic in nature and size when compared to Denton cockroaches. Montgomery often jests with his students on a periodic basis when one of the creepy crawlers surfaces, citing that the crawlers are so negligible in stature to their ancestors in the Carolinas lest the little guys distract the kids from the day's lesson plan.

On one such occasion, even Mister Knighthood himself found himself caught off-guard by a spider the size of a dime piece near his standard Orange County district issued desk. The district only supplied the athletics coordination and coaching facilities with the newer, ergonomic chairs. Luckily, sharing his office space, Monty was granted one these chairs for his side.

Montgomery recalls laughing that day, Well well Black, he issued to the classroom, You're going to have to get used to bugs fifty times that size in the South.

He remembers Marcus' face in tension and fear after the joke. Monty even recalls the regret he felt after having said anything at all. That was before the trio had gelled into their after school meeting seshes over theoretical formulas and salty snacks. Before these sessions, Big Black was just another jock and Page another teenage beauty queen.

As much as educators try nowadays their darndest not to impose sweeping generalizations on their student body, there are certain inalienable, human drives around stereotyping that allow teachers to create effective lesson plans, especially those who must navigate new board rules that are as erratic as the students themselves. Professor Montgomery learned largely not to judge a book by its cover in his Army days. Black, yellow, white, grey, purple - on the ground they were all green.

Sometimes in his more panicked days teaching - there are many - in a room full of thirty some students swiping away at their phones, Monty feels like the old saying goes, like he is delivering a speech in his underwear. Reaching these kids takes more than an embarrassing garment mishap nowadays. The Freudian device, however, comforts and delivers Montgomery back to Fort Bragg, where he found himself subject to a bit of bullying by one particular drill officer.

Drill Sergeant Andrews originated from somewhere even deeper South than Bragg and much deeper than Denton - possibly hell by the looks of it - stood six foot six, body hard and calloused and a voice just the same. His throat seemed to coat each phrase, command and instruction with rust off a drill bit used in a garage off Hell’s highway. Monty remembers how Sgt. Andrews' ashen black skin revealed little remorse to the sun during field training. It somehow seemed darker in the unforgiving sun than it did at midnight in the pouring rain. Sgt. Andrews did not take a liking to Montgomery and set out to make an example of the young nerdy private from day zero of basic training.

A lifer, Andrews especially didn't like when any of his guys were to read in the barracks. Pornography and letters from home - AOK. Books? Never. So therein lay a huge conundrum for Monty. Figuring the sarge would understand a proper adult governance over such matters, Monty continued to read in the barracks. He was soon to find out the hard way that green is green, but chain of command is chain of command.

After several incidents of being sent out for push-ups at high noon in a heat n that braces the Carolina sky like an iron skillet on Montgomery's behalf, his barrack mates decided to take matters into their own hands. Shortly before some of the barrack load, Montgomery included, were to be shipped out to the gulf, the guys took the occasion of a chow coma-ed private to load up every single book they could find hidden under his bunk, in his locker, and even the small bible he kept safe in his boot into a sack. They quickly threw in Monty's fatigues for good measure.

A young MP who was well aware of the goings on with Sergeant Andrews and his barrack decided to join in on the fun. The MP gave a blind eye to the men of barrack B9-five as they sprinkled the morning drill course with books and camo.

At 0400 the MP sounded for morning drill. A very naked Professor Montgomery was to follow the alarm.

The panic in his eyes after Montgomery thought he had lost all his books in a fire - a lifetime of memory and friend. This is the same look that Marcus had in his eyes that day about insects and the Carolinas.

Father’s Office

Brady’s father John is a nice guy – all-around - a model Orange County citizen with a master’s degree in political science. His clubs in the garage are kept nice and tidy between games. The software project manager doesn’t gamble, rarely drinks, and even finds time between client meetings to volunteer at the children’s hospital teaching kids how to swing a bat. Last year he raised a record $15,000 for the pediatric AIDS foundation Primer - a charity which he’s proudly sponsored for over a decade. If any paper, John Farmer is good onit.

John lifts his eyes to meet those of the cute waitress at their favorite diner in Laguna Beach. Well, you know what we like, and closes his menu. He always gets The World-Famous Blueberry Muffin and a black coffee. It’s implicit to a Friday that Brady will have waffles.

The waitress obliges. It’s going on sixteen years since she first met the father-son duo. Brady is a winter baby. She sighs just a bit while she collects their menus, as she imagines life in their house. Her brown eyes flicker with a bit of salt as she gathers the plastic. It must be warm, she thinks – the Farmer house. She softly graces them with an about face and smiles a bit to anchor herself from fantasy.  

John sees their waitress off with a full smile himself and turns to Brady, So pre-season starts in three weeks. His eyes light up as they meet his son’s baby blues - the same as his. I just know there will be recruiters there, he continues, And I have all the faith in your performance and training that you will get their attention. John pauses for Brady’s reaction. He knows his son like the bend of a familiar Sunday road. He persists, Brady I love you so much that, even though you can go all the way with football, I trust any decision you make...even if you turn down the scholarship. John blinks long as his coffee is placed. No longer coaching as of this season, he takes these moments to revel in the champion his son has become in his footsteps.

Thank you, he says and continues to investigate his son. How’s Page? he asks and takes a sip.

Brady notices a button on his navy blue varsity jacket falling astray. He peers down at it for a moment before answering. Oh, she’s good...we’re fine. His statement blanks as if to beg for explanation.

You ask her to formal yet? John continues, Boy, she is beautiful.

John is savvy to the oddities of the high school dating world - especially those that face his son in an era of single serving relations and swipe lefts. He owns original IPO investment shares of Worldbook and social dating app after all. The awareness that Page’s father David is a police officer makes him a bit more confident that Page is a good girl and deserving of his son’s admiration. John respects first responders as well although he also maintains the shared notion that police officers are ‘bus drivers with badges’. He even considered joining the armed forces during his master’s program. He just didn’t have it in him to travel to places outside Europe and Asia in those days. He imagines that Page must be a good girl – he wouldn’t have even looked twice at her at Brady’s age, however, having a cop father himself. John is a firm believer that the apple never falls far from the tree except for outlying circumstance. He fancies himself the decoder of his own destiny and hence, an outlier. John’s father abandoned his family, but John vowed to never leave his Brady behind.

Brady plays with the last lingering button on his now favorite jacket, gently threatening to join its absent, fallen brothers. It’s an old jacket anyway, a hand-me-down from the Knight before him. He leaves it be. He responds reluctantly staring past his father, into the diner’s bustling kitchen, Yeah, yeah, so...she already knows I’ll ask her.

That’s great, John acknowledges, You know I always liked her family - a black cop in this city...that takes a lot of courage. John sinks into his booth’s plush seat, enjoying the view of the passersby through the bay window.

The scent of blueberries and butter mash floods the diner and their table is suddenly heavy on their Sunday. Brady looks up from his plate and watches his dad take his first bite. He smiles and shrugs a bit. The button on the varsity shroud sways softly.

You know, Page is one of the good girls at your school, John looks towards his son after catching a brief glance of their waitress. He looks at her and back at him, I can actually see a real future with you two. John, realizing for the umpteenth time this month that he doesn’t need a dessert menu, closes the plastic pages and focuses on his son’s semi-solemn face. Training means only good carbs—the only exception is these Waffle Fridays.

BRADY SCOPES THE DESSERT section of the plastic lined menu, wondering if his favorite blueberry muffin featured on the menu’s healthy choice section is actually healthy. Frustrated by the pangs for junk food, Brady reflects to a mirror of his father and pictures his mom in the booth next to him. Gayle - nearly always dressed in navy blue or a purple to match the Knighthood hue - always orders the Apple Pie Delight. This is much to the disgruntlement of her boys who watch her devour the entries in green-eyed sugar envy.

Known as the local treat, the Apple Pie Delight is in fact a blueberry fritter. It received its name as a joke amongst the local fire departments in the 1960s when beloved Chief Gregory Nelson’s order was miscalculated by Kettle staff. There’s something irrevocably enchanting about news stories featuring local hometown heroes - especially firemen - that captivates and enlists trust and warmth in a community. A framed headline adorns The Kettle’s north wall, perched above a bay window that gazes out to shoreline, sand, and bare feet.

"History writes itself. Chief Nelson is a very handsome man. Married now twelve years to his Georgia peach. He dons a Northwood class ring on his right and his wedding band on the left, of course. On the morning of April 8, 1969, Chief Nelson orders his favorite donut - an apple fritter - to get his day started. He forgot his ring that day. The diner forgot his order. The rest is history. "

So, prelims this week, John looks up from his breakfast and makes contact, You must be stoked. You guys have a tremendous defensive coaching staff. Those guys get it. John pauses and ruminates, Like I learned from the best, he pauses and looks at the waitress again, The more we understand the opponent and the players within Charlie, the more we understand ourselves. John likes to use military phrase in his coaching vernacular to accentuate the gravity of the game.

His blues look into and past his son’s eyes and meet the waitress at the north end where the articles hang strewn like homemade Christmas ornaments over cookies and milk. She sways as if she were dancing below the frames. Her shape reminds him of Gayle’s in years past, the way she stretches one knee to bend and meet the other. She is effortlessly whimsical.

Brady’s glance lingers enough upon their exchange long enough to catch his father’s eyes on the waitress- up and down as if he were reading the Sunday paper. He acknowledges that there was probably something going on between the two, perhaps at a time well before his parents were even married. Maybe after. Didn’t matter.

Returning from his reading, John meets his son’s eyes - reflecting brightly the now rising sun - lit windowpanes. She’s somethin’, John offers the last triangle of toast to Brady. Brady snags it attentively and crunches the bread between his incisors. He chews and peers back into his father once more. John - pressing his left palm into his right at a perfect 45-degree angle - knowing full well that this will lift his son’s worry, grabs the remaining toast from the table.

The two await the Syrup. The Syrup always comes after the waffles at The Kettle. It must be served piping hot.

JOHN GLANCES OVER AT the young waitresses giggling in the corner. He smiles as the bunch must have recognized him from his presence on the north wall. It seems like just yesterday he'd been in that same uniform Brady is wearing now.

Northwood's athletic committee had decided to match professional division calendar standards back in the early 1990s. John, at the height of his coaching success, led the Knights to one of several undefeated seasons and was at the forefront of the administrative council leading to this standard. The idea of matching High School football practice and game schedule matriculated from the professional leagues themselves, in an effort to enrich morale in young players and fans. The professional leagues had seen a massive drop in viewership and fanbase over the past two decades and, aside from the continuous support of viewers in their thirties, worry surrounded the league that they may lose a growing audience moving forward.

A natural reaction to loss of popularity is preparation. Farmer, a firm believer in the gift of the game, took it upon himself to network among colleagues in the software industry to hatch out a plan to save it from dying out. To him, football is a reflection of self. Without the game, he may be without a legacy.

John and Gayle had just moved onto Oakwood when the phone call comes. The walls shake with telephone against yellow walls trimmed with hue ‘soft parakeet’ – a shade adorning many-a-wall in Orange County track homes built in the sixties. John swears he would replace the aging interior of their home when they get settled in. The paper thins so that it appears to quiver with each announcing ring.

I have good news for you, the woman on the receiver announces without warrant or hello. It's been nine months and she deducts by now is around the time John is off from coaching duties and Mrs. Farmer is out teaching or running errands. Her voice is sensual and tender, like some character out of a romance movie made for a babysitter.

What's that doll face? John licks his lips. He can almost taste hers.

Jackie has a knack for phone voice and charm. She pauses and holds for just a few seconds longer before replying, It's a boy.

The Farmer's Oakwood house lay on a cul-de-sac not unlike many similar houses that branch the quiet bedtime town like plagues on artery walls. The streets are designed so that each and every street have a solid command post. At least, any man of a strategic, tactical mind, will be able to see such glory in the masterpiece of its layout. To any other, the veins flow in comfort and the topography is merely a beautiful assemblage of track home and lace. Yet to the knowing eye, like Coach Farmer's, no decision, not even the very placement of his home at the basin of such a cul-de-sac, is in haste.

Without reply, John hangs up the receiver.

Decor

I DON'T SEE WHAT'S so difficult about texting or calling me or Brady when you are going to come home late, Gayle looks at John's eyes, so full of youth and blue like the moment she first set hers on his. She wonders what her eyes look like to John now. She feels ugly today - even uglier than she did yesterday. She walks closer to John, who's now rummaging the fridge for a beer.

He pops the can and takes a big sip before answering, I got caught up with paperwork. John perches up on the kitchen countertop.

Gayle, having just cleaned the kitchen, is now furious, What paperwork? You're not coaching this season.

Getting an early start on April.  He draws a bigger sip and places the can down abruptly, some of it spilling onto the clean red countertop. Just like the wallpaper, the two of them didn't agree on the color schematics of the decor. The kitchen, like the bedrooms, were half one color and half another. The two-story Orange ranch style home was half rustic, half modern. At times, the clash worked like yin and yang. Other times, like today, it feels completely illogical and miss matched.

Gayle leans into John as he presses further back onto the counter. He smells like sweat, cigarettes and hotel soap. Although she senses hesitation, Gayle's remnant optimism tells her that there is a chance that the specter’s source it's not another woman. She revels in this thought as her lips draw in to meet his. Before they meet, John finishes off the silver can and wipes his mouth.

He tastes different and it’s not the bullet. This arouses Gayle as she reaches over to unbuckle him.

John smiles, Not tonight beautiful. He brings Gayle's head down a bit with his palm and kisses her forehead quickly. He hoists her up and away and offs himself from the red tile. As he reaches the fridge in search of another beer, Gayle's eyes swell. She blames his hours and curses the day.

JACKIE'S LIPS ARE SO perfectly pink. John is on one of his night drives, the ones he takes if he's left the office a little too early to go home. It's his third consecutive night drive this week. He knows she works Sundays and he hasn't seen her in a few months. She usually calls.

To John, there is nothing more beautiful than the scent of a fresh cut field. The grass at Northwood is a prime example of this and he makes it a point to open his truck's windows to let in the scent of wet lawn and earth proudly on drives like these or any other occasion he finds himself with the urgency to stop by. He doesn't miss coaching or playing as much as the people and players. Moreover, he misses the game itself and the grassy air against stadium light, the way it stings and permeates through the sun setting orange sky like nothing else ever mattered.

Jackie's mouth tastes like these Friday nights. There is something about her tongue that emits the same electricity as the lights on the field at seven just before kickoff. The taste is different, but the feeling is the same. If he could just hold her and kiss her right now, John thinks, she will feel the same. She won't be angry anymore.

He's angry. John's angry at the clock on his truck's dash being a couple minutes removed from his smart watch and the timing of everything. Had he met Gayle just a few days later, he thinks, life would be so much better now. He'd be free to be the star he was meant to be.

To the best of John's knowledge, there is not a selfish bone in his body. He's sacrificed the game, his blood and his time for his family. If asked if he'd do it all again, he'd gladly say yes. The injury and recovery to follow – figments of a battle torn soldier’s story adapted by many over and over again into infamy.

Like the theory goes of the butterfly flapping its wings, John believes in the domino effect as much as the next guy. When asked if he'd marry Gayle again, he'd gladly say yes - conditionally.

Cruising 82 MPH against a Pacific Coast breeze, warmer now with the sun stretching out over the horizon like a whale, John glances down at his phone. He knows what to expect next but asks for more. Today, like for the past 96 days, he'll wait for a call that never comes.

Ketchup or Honey

H onestly I don't expect you to stick with the program as a starter unless you absolutely see it as a necessity for your top schools. John announces, fork in hand. It's 11PM and the Farmers are gathered over fried chicken and Gayle's famous artichoke dip. The house smells of parmesan and peppercorn. Knowing John would arrive late after his one on one with Dr. Sanders, Gayle made sure to keep some fresh in the oven.

Thursdays have become the normal family roundtable dinner over the years at the Farmer house. When they first moved in and it was just the two of them, work was steady at the ad agency and John made four or five of these modified ‘date-nights’.

John, a software engineer with an eye for the consumer as he called it, took a job at one of the most competitive consultancies in Orange. Convenient to both their move and the bun in the oven, the ‘Reese & Rebel’ style home on Oakwood, was just a stone’s throw away from their starter – a shady yet eloquent flat just south of the 55. The house came equipped with characteristic track home lack of charm - buildable and bendable. The home's mis-mashing wallpapers provided the implicit hope that comes with improvement over time. At least, these constraints and ‘deficiencies’ are what Gayle and John agreed on when they purchased it.

UNABLE TO GET A BITE in yet of his favorite bye week dishes, Brady reaches for the honey. Growing up, John read to him the myths legends past. The Sports Legend Dictionary includes such details found on the back of player cards but also adds in little known intricate factoids, such as each player's favorite food, dessert, cleat type, and color. Honey atop fried chicken is one of Barry Sanders favorite bye week foods according to the dictionary which lists the players by locality. John Farmer, having much to do with The Detroit Lions offensive coaching styles, has a saying when it comes to tight matched games: We're not in Kansas anymore. John feels intrinsically linked to the Wichita native, one of his favorite professional running backs and oftentimes parallels Black's talents to the 5'8" 2x Bert Bell award earner. Naturally, the all-time rush earner's favorite treats of choice have become one of the Thursday staples at The Farmer's House.

Yeah, Brady says, reaching for the bear shaped bottle of honey seated in front of his mom's empty plate setting. Gayle, watching her waist, oftentimes caters these roundhouses but doesn't partake in the food festivities.

Knowing that his son is half listening if listening at all, John reiterates, You've gotten early acceptance from Cal. You don't have to be a part of any of that mess they have going on over there.

Since some cop took up a vacancy in the Knight's coaching staff on what appeared to be a whim, there's been a growing nervousness among much of Northwood. John continues where he left off last week at the Kettle, He's not experienced is all. He reaches for the bottle of honey, now almost emptied to the plastic shell of a bear by its previous user.

Frustrated, John motions the bottle towards Gayle who quickly ups from her seat and walks to the fridge to fetch the reserves. (It's either honey or ketchup in The Farmer House). Thankless, she returns the plastic bottle to the table and John pours, scowling now, He never even played ball. He's going to ruin this franchise.

Brady rolls his eyes and remains silent. He knows the best option he has now is to finish and enjoy his chicken.

It's like those dummies don't have enough going on writing parking tickets and beating up black kids you know? John picks up a butter knife to ease the ketchup better onto his plate. Am I right? He asks, looking at his son in disbelief.

Brady, gnawing at a drumstick, is happier now that he is half full. He realizes his dad is right, as always. He does have early entrance to his top choices and, being a Varsity, he now has the advantage of opting out of these last few games to avoid an injury.

Brady sets the bone down and uses the chicken fat to sop up some of the honey from his plate before bringing it back to his mouth into absolution. He responds, I'll think about it.

Counterstrike

My Reflection Reflecting

Brady ponders, listening to Gayle speak to the walls as if nobody were home to hear her. He opens his notebook and types:

I wish I could become even a semblance of what my father wants. I mean, I want to make him happy, granted. I want to make him see that I can take care of the day. There is this constant sense of judgement emanating from him. It’s indirect and precise. It pulsates like heavy rain.

Late. The bastard. Late again. If he could just keep up with keeping up, I fucking swear. She says under and over a sigh as if to purposely inflict more psychic woe his way. Brady turns the speakers up on his Mac Book to drown her out. His favorite playlist drowns out half her wretchedness.

He continues, pressing the keys harder as if it were a typewriter,

This letter will show that I overcame his misappropriations of our generation’s rhetoric. That I saw through the BS - pardon my acronym - and dove deeper. The mere fact that I stand here, writing these words to you speaks volumes of my story.

Brady pauses his fingertips in silence and glances out upon the fading summer sky. It’s dusk and he feels both accomplished and apprehensive at once. Will these newly emotional words fall flat or reach someone who cares? He wonders. He’s never been this open.

His fingertips glaze over the keyboard return to stop recording but he pauses. He continues recording - the electronic heat echoing back in acknowledgement.

Still, he hears his mother’s voice pierce through his earbuds,

Late. Like he was late for every single game this season, and the two priors. Late because he was late for no good reason other than to cheat.

(Gayle looked on from the stands, pride in her heart and sorrow in her gaze. He’s made varsity this year.)

Brady speaks closer to the camera of his online journal, a rag he started freshman year entitled The Heavy. He’s up to 196 thousand followers on The Tube. "I just know that I am meant to be something bigger than

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