…the cost of love

Scenic Park Elementary was a small school with small class sizes. Teachers normally would have between ten to fifteen kids per grade due to its location deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Principal Marshall Graham was proud of his school and would make sure to be at the bus stop every day to see all the students, to make sure they knew that if they ever needed anything, he would be there to help. Before this day ended, he would be the financial backer for a love that would last approximately two weeks.

Jasper Quintley was a third grader who was known for being shy, polite, friendly and almost intelligent. He came off the bus like normal but when Principal Graham looked at him, he could tell that Jasper had something on his mind. “Good Morning, Jasper”, gently stated the school leader as he glanced toward the cautious student. “Hello Mr. Graham”, he gave a halfhearted greeting due to being preoccupied with a huge dilemma. “Jasper, are you ok?””Uhh, I’m not sure, I got a lot on my mind!” replied the perplexed eight-year-old. As the bus unloaded, Mr. Graham guided Jasper over to a narrow hallway that lead to his office. There was a small bench just outside his door and he tapped the bench to indicate to Jasper that he wanted him to sit down beside him.

Jasper nervously sat down, unsure what the next few minutes would be like. “Did I do something wrong, Mr. Graham?”, asked the suddenly anxiety filled child. A long smile cracked the educator’s demeanor, “Of course not Jasper, I am just concerned because you just don’t seem like yourself, can I help you in any way?” His nerves faded into hope as he looked up at Mr. Graham, “I am too poor to be in love!” A look of confusion and amusement waltzed across the eyebrows of the elder administrator.

“Jasper, real love rarely has a monetary amount.” The proud words instantly turned to realization that the third grader had no idea what the words “monetary amount” meant. Mr. Graham tried again, “Jasper, if you really like someone and they like you back, money will really not matter, do you understand what I mean?” Jasper took a deep breath and said nervously, “You are wrong, it cost $.50 for a popsicle and Paula Grace Manitti said if I wanted her to be my girlfriend, I would have to buy her a popsicle during break and I do not have it and now she won’t be my girlfriend because I do not have $.50 because my Mama said no and Daddy won’t be back because he is in the Army and I will never be in love and I will never have a girlfriend and Bobby and Roger and Marvin and Austin and….” As he rambled off more of his friend’s names that he claims would make fun of him for not having a girlfriend, Mr. Graham easily interrupted, “Shhhh, it is going to be ok Jasper, you will not believe it but I can help you out. I was outside waiting for the buses and I happen to look down and I found two quarters, just this morning.” As he made up the story he wanted to be cautious of being a giver of money to anyone that ever needed a “girlfriend”, “I tell you what I will do Jasper, if you promise to keep this secret between me and you, just this one time, I will give you the two quarters that I found, is that a deal.” Emotional fireworks lit up the small boys face and he squealed, “OH YES, I promise Mr. Graham, I will promise.” As the educator gave the two shiny pieces to the gleeful child, Jasper grabbed them and ran down the hall to get to his classroom. Mr. Graham then got off the bench and went into his office, awaiting him was a note from the Frozen Fun Time Ice Cream company saying that popsicle prices will be going up to $.75 the next week. He pondered that the price of love usually rises as time goes on.

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…helicopters and loud music

Burgundy and burnt orange was how Allen described the colors of his rusted hatchback. Struggling to hit 65 on the open interstate highway, he had little on his mind except the song that vibrated from the overused speakers. “JUMP…..da da da dah….might as well JUMP”,  bellowed from the young man that turned 22 years old just one day ago. Youth was still on his side even though he believed his wisdom was that of a 27 year old, extremely mature man.

Interstate 77 was a straight shot from Columbia, SC to exit 73 where Allen planned on taking US 421 up to Boone, NC. He was attending college at Appalachian State University. Normally that trip would take about 3 hours but the self proclaimed “Honda from Rhonda” would need more time due to a low top speed and a shaky suspension on well worn tires. “Can’t you see me standing here I got my back against the record machine”, flowed loudly from the young man about 5 miles on the north bound side of the state line, which splits down the middle of Charlotte, the biggest city in the Old North State. Allen knew he was somewhere around 2 hours from being back to his college apartment.

As the song was starting to hit the guitar solo part of the rock anthem, a strange sense that a conspiracy was suddenly taking place. Above the slight distorted rhythm being produced by the abused stereo, the distant faint sound of a helicopter had arrived. Studying history had caused Allen to always be skeptical when things are not pure and exact. He knew it was not easy to fool the man who bragged to others about his “foreign” car. Saying that was better than actually claiming ownership of a slowly rusting, even slower driving vehicle whose drivers seat was kept upright by three old blankets, piled tightly on the floorboard of the tiny back seat bench.

David Lee Roth continued to shout out the last verse of the song. Allen had now cleared Charlotte and was in Huntersville. Dramatically, his fear of knowing more than he should for a man his age was beginning to take over his heartbeat. “Buh buh buh buh buh” of the churning aircraft that he knew was following him due to having a high level of intelligence made him wish he was already back to his small second floor unit instead of the lonely stretch of concrete road that was being driven after midnight. Allen feared that having a father and older brother that served in the United States Air Force and that he spurned serving his country was occasionally a cause for secret agents to keep tabs on him. Heartbeat acceleration now caused the self assumed alpha male to sweat. He knew he might be abducted for turning down the USAF.

Slowly the band from California’s melodic tribute to leaping was fading to an end but the helicopter seemed to grow louder and louder. Allen punched at the stereo’s power button so he could use all of his highly educated abilities to figure out how he will escape. “I am on a near empty Interstate highway and being chased by over eager political heavies that will make me swear allegiance to a nation that brain washed my father and brother in believing that all good from this earth comes from fighter planes and all things evil lives on the nations that love causing pain, hate and a over inflated importance of the sport called “futbol”. Supported enthusiastically by every heathen nation that envied the US’s more relevant football and knew that outsiders hated the term soccer!” Allen was sure the helicopter had landed on the top of his Japanese roadster to push him off the road and he was right. The foreign car stiffly drifted on the shoulder of the road and he slammed on his brakes and prepared to take on the onslaught of trained soldiers that have come to deliver a hostile nations justice on his self chosen passive path of life.

Allen pushed the creaky door open and rolled forcibly out with his fist tight and preparing for a fight to the death. Sweat was now heavy on his “Give me rock or give me death” t-shirt. His head was on a tight swivel as all he saw was a combination of smoke and fog. He knew the cowards was trying to gas him because of his high level of cognitive superiority was no match for the blue clad, defense budget lackies that knew they were sadly deficient compared to the brilliant historian. As his eyes began to tear up from the fumes it occurred that there was something odd, he was by himself. His eyes darted and suddenly a loud horn echoed as he discovered he was standing about 5 feet inside the right lane of the interstate. He suddenly scampered back to the shoulder of the road. “IDIOT” was shouted from the passing pick up as Allen pounced on the windshield of the foreign car. Instantly he was humbled as his head had slid far enough over the car to see the true cause of his drama, the passenger side front tire was in shreads. David Lee Roth, the United States Air Force, the rest of Van Halen, the helicopter and Allen’s over valued level of intelligence was nowhere to be seen on the lonely roadside. The “Honda from Rhonda” would get fixed and carry on, just like his owner in pursuit of higher learning, better quality stereo speakers and tires with heavier tread.

…Marge the Sarge

“Yes it is a bouquet of flowers.” Marge Chippersen held a random collection of roses, daisies and tulips in her hand. Perplexed, annoyed and indifferent she tossed them in her desk wastebasket. A sigh heavy enough to move some paper off her inbox, she stressed, “I am tired of getting these flowers, candy, cards, I just want to work and go home”. She stared at the newspaper article her Captain placed on her desk. “Sergeant saves 3 lives” was the headline. Eight days earlier, she wrestled 2 babies that were twins and a man out of a fiery car. She was proud of the accomplishment but was growing weary of the ongoing attention. Marge was a quiet, energetic cop that worked by the rules and kept the rest of her world under a thick, heavy blanket.

Her shift ended soon after disposing the gift. She gathered her gear and proclaimed that she would see everyone in a few days. Marge had a four day break, she was planning to get out of town, away from the attention she had earned from being a hero. Heading to her small hatchback vehicle, there was a paper under her windshield. “YOU ARE MY HERO” was written in big letters. She took the paper and crumpled it up, jammed it in her pants pocket and got into her car.

Marge put her head on her steering wheel, tears of guilt began to pour from her tired eyes. Memories of past cases that did not turn out as well as the one that is currently giving her so much credit began cascading her mind like 1000 foot waterfall. Joan on Simpson Street that was assaulted and her crime was never solved. Herb from All Night Dry Cleaners that was robbed and stabbed has never gotten his justice, another cold case. There were others over her 12 years in law enforcement that she remembered never received any answers but she was still being praised for what she felt was doing her job, nothing more.

Falling deeper in her own defeated recollections, a small tap could be heard on her window. Marge raises her head to see a 14 year old girl, eating a ice cream cone and sporting a grin that showed two heavy rows of shiny braces. “Did you see my note?” excitedly chanted the teen. Marge takes a deep breath as she opens her door and replies with a quiet, “What?” Grinning even bigger the young girl says, “The message I left, it said ‘you are my hero’ in really big letters and it is true, you are my hero”. The next 15 minutes was magical for the worn out heroine. She learned that the girl was the big sister of the twins she saved over a week earlier. Being in the presence of that excited fan evaporated the visions of failed cases she was dwelling in just moments prior to the ice cream eating lady detailing her admiration for the law official.

Four days later Marge returned to work from her small vacation. She went to her desk and got the article her Captain gave her, it was still on her desk. The Sergeant reached into a backpack she brought in and pressed out the crumpled message from the teenager. She took a folder and placed the article and the message in it and labeled it, “Sunshine”. For the next 19 years, anytime she had a failed case, a situation where justice did not prevail or if she was just feeling defeated, she would open up that folder for a refreshing memory that always lifted her spirits.

…Sally and her box

“My box, my box, my box!” Sally Vesh gleefully romped across the room while pushing her cardboard crate. Eight years old, giddy, grinning and gracefully hopping in the living room, she was excited about the rectangle shaped container. Her Mom allows the child to play with her box in the afternoon after she comes home from school. It was thick and worn but holding up to being the treasure trove for the energetic girl. It was her time to play.

Covered with animal and cartoon stickers, the receptacle was colorful, whimsical and plastered with cute designs. Dogs, cats, horses, turtles, cows, birds, super heroes, rabbits, rainbows and smiley faces were all over Sally’s bin. She would get stickers for behaving well when going shopping or traveling with her parents. Sally was sharp and kind, she gladly followed the rules because she knew it would give her more stickers for her box.

Inside the box is a collection of toys. 4 dolls; Maisy, Daisy, Lizzie and Reagan, 2 horses, Earl and Pearl, a cow named Milky, a turtle named Shelly and a frog named Hoppy were the names of the items that Sally kept in her favorite place. Playing with these novelties was the highlight of her day. She would talk to them individual, making sure that all nine characters were loved and cherished. She was allowed 1 hour a day to play and that time would always end with a buzzer telling Sally that her time was over.

Holding Hoppy and smiling at the lime green frog, the buzzer sounded in the living room. Instantly she packed up her playtime pals in her decorated crate. Her Mom came back into the room to collect the cardboard box, she smiles at Sally then places a glass and small plate on the table then handed her daughter a tablet. Opening the cover for the electronic device, Sally proclaims, “When will the figures from Dynawiz be arriving?” Her Mom replied, “Probably by 7, the offices are a couple of time zones from here.” Rolling her eyes, “I know where the offices are Mom.” Sally was many things, energetic, young, bouncy and a childhood genius. “I will crunch the Malcolm numbers and just wait for the rest” as she gulps a tall glass of chocolate milk and chews on her peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Eight year old account managers need nourishment too.

…Velma’s favorite time

Pecking in a random rhythm, the rain bounces off the window. Scents of pine trees, honeysuckle and cut grass rushes over Velma as she shuts the glass opening she was peering out of before the change of weather. Vapors of steam are embracing her face as she pulls the copper kettle of chicken soup off her oven. “Louie, it’s ready!”, she proclaimed in a firm, medium voice. Taking two bowls out of her cabinet, she ladled a full portion in both vessels. Louie shuffles in, sits at the table and looks at the hot concoction. “Smells good and I’ve been looking forward to this all day” he said and he drowned a piece of bread into the liquid goodness. Louie grinned before chunking the wet wheat mixed with Velma’s creation into his mouth. “UMMMM UMMMM”, moaned Louie as he gulped the delight down just to do that same motion seven more times with a couple other slices of bread. “I am not sure why I even bother giving you a spoon.”, Velma said in a huffy tone with a small smile that was well hidden from Louie.

Rain kept pecking against the old wooden house that was covered by a tin roof. Velma had lived her whole life there, she was 68 and felt it more when the clouds gave way to washing her home. Velma was a retired short order cook that still owned a small percentage of the nearby cafe which her family established 43 years prior to now. Her twin sons now handle the business and she spends her days at home doing needle crafts, tending to her garden and watching over her only grandson, Louie.

Tapping against the house, the rain was keeping them both inside. He finished his soup and went into the living room. “Grandma, I want to draw something can you get me some paper?” She was eager to see him draw, it brought her many hours of happiness when she would be there by herself. Velma had wallpapered most of the living room with her grandson’s art. Gathering several sheets of paper she layer them on the table. Then she brought in a wooden crate that had colored pens, crayons and a few wide tipped markers. Louie took the collection and began drawing the kitchen table with the two bowls of soup. He took his time, making each mark precisely where it would need to be on the sheet.

Windy lines of precipitation was still peppering Velma’s house two hours later. Louie looked at his grandmother, “I am finished!” She took the drawing and gazed at the table, bowls and that shadow that could be made out over the top of the table. Louie pointed at the the picture and said that was them eating the soup. A grin that lit up the cloudy backdrop shined as she saw the title he gave the piece. It simply said, “My Favorite Time”, she took a deep sigh, hugged Louie and taped it on her refrigerator door. She looked at Louie and said “It is my favorite time too!”

…Parker and his headphones

Vibrations covers the head, neck and it flattens out as it goes past his shoulders. Parker pulled his headphones over his ears and laid down on his bed. He shut his eyes and decided to just drown this day in the minutia of melody, words, harmonies and emotions of his favorite song. Molly’s Music Monster was the name of his favorite group, he was in love with the band leader. Molly Chester. She led a hard rock and blues mix band known for its fusion of electric guitars with a trio consisting of a French horn, trombone and a clarinet. There are 8 members in 3 M which was a known moniker for the rock octet. Parker only wanted the music to blare out the problems he was having today.

“Why did this happen? What was she thinking of? Why did she say that to me?” Parker grit his teeth as he was rolling these questions over and over in his mind. Vibrations still covering his head but barely any sensation in his neck but the heavy beat of the group is unpacking the message that Molly is singing. “Do you want me here, do you want me now, tell me when is when and how you wantr me….HOW?” Parker sets his device to keep repeating those words. He grips a substance from his pocket and gulps the product, dry at the start but he chases it with a half chilled beer. His eyes are dazed, the mix of music, emotion, chemicals and heart break is deciding how many pages are left in this novel called life.

Parker glides deeper into a fuzzy existence. Vibrations of 3M is barely felt as tears start dripping down the side of his numbing face. After following the group for all 8 years, 4 months and 22 days since their first show at a nearby bar, Parker declared his love for Molly. The band leader declined Parker and any association with him. It was a deep rejection. His headphone covers slowly become damp from the cascade of sadness coming from his eyes. All Parker can remember is Molly saying, “You are my cousin, get away from me!” Even though biologically they were just fourth cousins, it was more than enough reason for the 29 year old singer to deny the advances of the 58 year old obsessed groupie.

Six days later, Randall Shannon, the landlord of Parker’s apartment was requested by local law enforcement to open the locked door. Smells of rotting flesh, crushed dreams and a life ended by a overdose filled both the apartment and seeped into both adjoining apartments which caused the owner to be notified by the offended neighbors. A medic was called in to assist with moving the dead music fan off his bed. As the headphones were being peeled off the deceased man, the lyrics were still being belted out. “Do you want me here, do you want me now, tell me when is when and how you want me….HOW?” Randall looked puzzled and asked the medic why he was smiling. The grinning professional opened up his vest. A bright red tee shirt with big black letters reading “Molly’s Music Monster World Tour” was tight against his chest. Zipping his vest back up he heard the sarcastic property manager say “Rock on” as he decided the odor and sounds of the nearly week old deceased man being slid into a body bag was more than he wanted to handle.

…Whitney in love

They held hands and declared it to be so. Whitney and Manny, lovers that proclaimed that this would be the one, the final one! She was tired of the broken promises from her previous partners. Johnny left her for Sandy. Paul had just grown tired of things and wanted to be left alone. Isaac was a keeper but he had to move to a different state due to family reasons. Lawrence still loved her but also loved Mary, Cheryl and Victoria. Lawrence would never be a one woman man, which was a top prerequisite for Whitney. Carl was the most ridiculous suitor she ever had an attachment with. He tried to trade Whitney to his cousin Allen, for a used car. Whitney swore off any man that liked to trade for a living after being on the offering block due to that chassis loving Neanderthal. She knew Manny was the real one, the true one, the one that was for keeps. Their only obstacle was the blonde giant which was the cause of most of the dissenting breakdowns in every relationship Whitney ever experienced. The huge, faired hair tyrant was strict and hard to reason with, it was Blondie’s way or no way and everyone else knew it.

Manny’s road to emotional bliss was much different. Whitney was his first true love. He would easily blush when she would be anywhere near him. His face would become rouge, burnt orange, rust, and then fade into a soft flamingo pink that made Whitney squeal when his facial fireworks would ignite. His love was fresh and innocent, Whitney was all he wanted and even more, all he ever knew. As far as fearing the blonde beast, Manny was so passionate that he was not afraid of the golden hair menace. He held Whitney’s hand tight and looked deep into her eyes. Their hearts fluttered like a strand of cotton candy being whirled together at the local fair. Emotion, desire, romance, hot vibrant pulses from their hearts rumbled around them. It rumbled so loudly that the blonde beast began to take notice.

Suddenly the ground began to quake. Whitney had seen this before and the sun was slowly being blocked out by the light haired dictator. Manny squeezed Whitney’s hand tighter than he ever grabbed anything in his life. He gripped her fingers so strongly that she yelled in pain. “Owwww, you are hurting me Manny” was the words blurted out as the pace of the steps from the golden crown Goliath was looking down at both of them. Manny was instantly in fighting mode. He gritted his teeth as he let go of Whitney and with all of his might, kicked the blonde beast. “That’s it young man, go to the time out chair” The shrill tones of Mrs. Hollings could be heard all over the recess playground. “Whitney, you are the biggest 1st grade heartbreaker I ever had to teach”, stated the tall, yellowed hair instructor as she made sure Whitney’s hand was not injured. Whitney sighed as she was fearing that Manny’s love may be destroyed by the punishment from Mrs.Hollings. As Whitney walked away from the teacher, she strolled by Carl and Allen trading Hot Wheel cars and laughing at Lawrence who was being chased by his three current attachments. Whitney was too mature for this group, she could not wait until she could date older men in the summer when she would be enrolled in the county wide K thru 6 Sunshine Funshine camp. True love would be hers before Independence Day and Manny would be heartbroken before the day would end.