by Martin Maenza
The three close friends had eventually grown apart as they got older. The red-haired guy became a jock in school; he excelled in cross-country track in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball in the spring. The girl was athletic as well, mastering acrobatics in junior high and then captaining the cheerleaders’ squad in high school.
Timmy Thomas, however, was much more introverted and preferred academic clubs to sports. That made the scrawny teen a target. “Hey!” Timmy said as his books fell to the ground. “Quit it!”
Biff Tanner laughed. The rest of his varsity jacket-wearing friends laughed, too, as they stood around the geeky boy on the ground picking up his books. “Oooh, I’m so scared,” Biff said. “What’cha gonna do about it?” The other jocks cheered Biff on.
Timmy dropped his head and said nothing.
“Missed one!” Biff said as he kicked one of the texts across the parking lot. The others laughed and then left the poor boy as they headed for their cars. A familiar couple sat on the hood of a car, making out. “Say, there’s the love birds.”
The red-haired jock stopped kissing the brunette head cheerleader. “What’s shaking, Biff?” he asked.
“Just the daily nerd-herding,” Biff replied. “Gotta keep the freaks in line until graduation. Gotta show ’em what the real world will be like, right?” He thrust up his hand for a high five.
“I heard that,” the redhead said, returning the gesture with a loud slap. “We’re about to hit the road, anyway. You gonna hang out tonight?”
“Definitely,” Biff said.
“Cool,” the redhead said. “We’ll see you then.” The couple hopped in the guy’s car, and they drove off.
She pulled a cigarette from her purse and lit it. “You know what I love about you, tiger?” she purred in his ear as he drove. “When you’re around those guys, you just reek of macho testosterone.”
“You like that, don’tcha, baby?” He snatched the cigarette from her hand and took a drag. She was about to protest when he handed it back to her. He turned down the street to where he lived. “We got some time to kill before my folks get home to… you know.” He pulled the car to a stop in front of his house and got out.
“Oh, you think I’m that easy,” she said as she joined him.
“You know it!” he said, stopping at the mailbox to grab the day’s mail. As he thumbed through the pile, he stopped suddenly at one envelope. He dropped everything else and tore into it. His facial expression fell as he glanced at the contents.
“What is it?” she asked. He shoved the paper in her face, allowing her to read it. “A draft notice?”
“Damn!” the teen said as he kicked at the tires of his car.
“Says you don’t have to report for thirty days,” she said. “That’s after graduation.”
“Screw that!” he said. “I ain’t going!” They headed for the house. “We were plannin’ to blow town after we graduated, anyway, so now our destination changes, is all! We can go to Canada for a bit!”
“And what’ll we do for money, Einstein?” she asked.
The redhead got a gleam in his eye. “I have an idea.”
About a week later, just after ten at night, a pair of figures moved in the shadows of a backyard toward the door of a residence in town. The larger of the two was about to break the window when the smaller stopped his hand. Instead, she reached into her coat and pulled out an old key she’d kept all these years. It actually would come in handy this night.
The two slipped inside the home. In no time, they made their way upstairs in the darkened house to the master bedroom. There they’d go for things they could pawn quickly, like jewelry and such. “Told you this would be easy,” the male said softly. “Their car has been gone for the last couple days. We’ll be in and out in no time.”
Suddenly, from the darkened bedroom, the couple saw a light come on downstairs. The glow shone up the stairwell. “Great,” the female cursed quietly. “Someone’s home, and we’re trapped!”
“Not yet we’re not!” the male said. “Quick, get a sheet from the bed! I’ve got an idea.” With the sack of items they were stealing in one hand, he went for the closet where a set of golf clubs were kept. He grabbed a three iron just in case.
The shadow of a figure could be seen coming up the stairwell. The woman threw the sheet down upon the person, blocking his vision. As he started to protest and struggle with the sheet, the red-haired male bound down the steps and smacked the covered person with the golf club. The person tumbled backward down the stairs, the sheet wrapped between his legs, and his body fell hard in the foyer. It was silent.
The couple hurried down the stairs, only to notice that the sheet had fallen away. Timmy Thomas lay dead on the floor, the back of his head bleeding red. “Oh, my God!” the dark-haired woman said. “We killed him!”
Her boyfriend grabbed her arm. “Forget it!” he said. “We gotta grab the silver and trash some stuff! Make it look like a break-in!” He emptied the drawers from the china cabinet into the sack. The woman still stood staring at the body. He had to grab her hand when he was finished. “C’mon! Let’s go!” He dragged her toward the back door and pushed her out.
With the golf club, he smashed the window on the door to make it appear that the house had been broken into. The police would assume Timmy surprised the burglars and was killed. If the two kept their mouths shut for a few more days, they’d be able to skip town right after graduation with no turning back.
The young woman was still in shock a few days later as their car waited in line at the Peace Bridge. Her boyfriend poked her. “Hey, focus, honey,” he said. “We’ve got to be cool for a few more minutes, and then we’re home free. You got your fake name down, right?”
She nodded. “Paula Brooks,” she said numbly.
“That a girl,” he said, pulling out his own new identification, a fake driver’s license he had made up right after he got his draft notice. His said Charles Crock. The irony of the situation struck him, given the incident with Timmy Thomas a few nights back. The fake names had come to him from when they had been reading comics as kids. They must have stuck in his mind for a reason. He grinned. Something good had come from reading those books after all.
Dr. Harleen Quinzel finished her notes and called James Dillin to come pick her up. She didn’t want to have to be waiting around with the Crocks too long after she delivered to them her conclusions. She wasn’t sure how they would be received.
Eventually, she returned to the living room where the couple was waiting. Crusher and Paula were sitting on the couch together, so Harleen took a seat in the chair. “First, I want to thank you for your time,” the psychiatrist said. “Willingness to talk to someone, especially a complete stranger, is a good sign.”
“So what’s the final tally, Doc?” Crusher asked. “You think our marriage is headed for the hall of fame, or what?”
Dr. Quinzel took off her glasses and rubbed them with a handkerchief from her pocket. “As I mentioned when I arrived earlier this afternoon, I’m not a marriage counselor,” she said, replacing the spectacles on her face. “However, I’ve known a number of folks personally who have gone through marriage counseling. I also know how to read people, from my psychological background and years of case study.”
“We understand,” Paula said. “Please go on.”
“Thank you,” Harleen said. “Couples often seek counseling when they feel misunderstood, frustrated, or deeply hurt. Others seek it when they feel a profound sense of sadness in their relationship. Marriages aren’t always going to be blissful. There is often conflict that requires open communication to solve problems and remove obstacles.
“Any marriage counselor will tell you that the foundations of marriage include trust, common interests, and a willingness to put the needs of your spouse over your own. Without a solid foundation, couples will flounder, stumble, and fall. Arguments will increase, and conflicts become more difficult to resolve. It’s not impossible to rectify the situation, but the couple needs to be willing to fix things.
“From what I’ve seen today, in talking with the both of you and observing your interactions with one another, I can see that the two of you have some major issues with one another. I don’t know how much of the things I mentioned that you two have or had before, but in my observations it seems that the two have you may have lost some of those along the way.
“Your interactions with one another, in how you speak in words and actions, seem to be filled mostly with aggression and frustration. Your goals at times seem more self-focused; you don’t seem to function fully as a common unit for a common goal. If you truly want to make this marriage work, you need to resolve some of these things. Talk them out, calmly and rationally. Open communication is critical.
“If you don’t want to work for it, you might as well just split up permanently.” Harleen reached for her briefcase near the chair. “I think I should go now, so you two can talk.”
Harleen quickly rose and headed for the front door. Surprisingly, the Crocks sat on the couch silently, no doubt letting the words she’d just spoken sink in. That was a good sign. Given how they’d acted all day, she hadn’t truly expected this kind of response. Perhaps this was the wake-up call that they needed.
Stepping out the front door, Harleen closed it behind her, then started down the walk to where James would pick her up in a few minutes. The sun was about to set, the sky taking on a slight reddish hue.
She turned back briefly when she heard the muffled sound of yelling voices from the house. Harleen shook her head. Well, she tried. That’s all she promised to do.
A few minutes later, as Harleen still waited, Paula Brooks came out the side entrance of the house and hurried down the driveway. She kept glancing back to see if she was being watched from the house; she wasn’t. “Dr. Quinzel,” she called softly as she neared the street.
Harleen turned. “What is it? Did I forget something?”
“No,” Paula said. “I did.” James’ car rounded the corner and slowly approached the house. Paula knew she didn’t have time to waste. “I didn’t say anything inside earlier, but I just found out I’m pregnant — seven weeks.”
Harleen’s eyes grew wide at the revelation. “Does Crusher…?”
“No,” Paula said. “He doesn’t know yet. I haven’t told him. That’s why I wanted to speak to someone, to see if maybe we could get some help.”
Harleen gave her a brief hug. “I think you made the right decision,” she said. “You can’t bring a child into a household like that unless there are some changes.”
A tear was forming in the corner of Paula’s eye. “I… I know,” she said.
James’ car pulled to the front of the house and stopped. Harleen reached into her briefcase and pulled out a small white card. “Here,” she said as she gave it to Paula. “My new numbers are on the back, both office and home. If you need someone to talk to, please call.”
Paula slipped the card into the pocket of her black skirt. “I will,” she said. “Thank you.”
Harleen nodded, opened the car door, and slipped into the passenger seat. James drove off, leaving Paula Brooks standing before the setting sun. What would the next dawn bring?