Mike slammed the car door, turned the key, and headed for the turnpike. He was running late already. He would miss the dinner. But they couldn’t have the surprise without him. No, the surprise was his deal. Too bad he wasn’t looking forward to it.
He slammed on the brakes. “Hey moron! Ya tryin’ to get us all killed? What the hell’s your problem? D’you getcha license from a cracker jack box?” Generally Mike was pretty good at weaving in and out of traffic. Sure, he might cut someone off occasionally, but when they saw his hulking form looming over the steering wheel, they knew better than to mouth off.
He had to drive an hour out of his way to run this errand. By the time he wheeled into the parking lot, he was feeling less than cheerful. It had just started to rain, and the lights in the store window were warm and welcoming. At least they would have been to anyone but Mike. He slung the door open and sauntered in. The salesman who should have approached him found himself otherwise occupied with a tower of cords and cables. No one would look him in the eye.
Mike looked down. “Christ!” he mumbled, tearing the bloody apron from his neck and shoving it inside his coat.
“Can I help you?” came a voice from the back corner of the store.
“Yeah,” Mike said. “I want your basic package. Nothin’ too fancy, huh?”
“Are you shopping for yourself?” inquired the salesman. His pseudo-cheerfulness grated on Mike’s nerves.
“Hey look, if I wanted you to know the details, I’d’a give ‘em to ya, huh? Just give me the basic package and the basic equipment.”
The salesman selected the merchandise, second-guessing himself twice, no, three times. He asked Mike for the name on the account, threw in the extra cords, cables, and cases with which the other salesman had so diligently busied himself. Mike turned to go.
“Have a nice night,” bleated the salesman. Mike threw up his hand and grunted.
All the way home Mike fretted over what was about to happen. He thought of best case scenarios. This could be a good thing, a learning experience. He thought of worst case scenarios. Maybe she’d be distracted. She wouldn’t see the end until it was too late. He generally liked to know the outcome of a situation before he went into it, so this uncertainty was maddening. He tightened his grip on the steering wheel.
“Here goes nothin'” he thought. And he entered the house.
“Damn it!” he growled as he sprawled, grasping for the countertop. He’d tripped over something small and pink. A ballet slipper.
“Sweetie, you’re home,” his wife said. She looked beautiful in her red sweater and pearls. He might have told her so if he hadn’t still been cursing the ballet slipper. “We waited for you as long as we could, but you know. We haven’t cut the cake yet though.”
Was this supposed to be his consolation?
He took off his coat and threw it and the bloody apron inside it to the back of the coat closet. He checked his hair, checked his face, and made his entrance.
When he walked into the dining room, the roar of conversation trickled to a mere murmur. Mike had that effect on people, if only briefly.
“Hey Mike, how are things down at The Butcher’s Block?” his neighbor Randy asked.
“Good, good,” Mike grumped. “People gotta eat, even in tough times, ya know?”
They shared a chuckle.
“It’s about time you got here,” said Aubrey Finnerman, another neighbor.
“I just had some last minute, uh, business to take care of,” he told them. “You know, somethin’ for the, uh, party her–”
“Daddy!” He turned in time to catch the whirling, twirling form of his fifteen (soon to be sixteen)-year-old daughter.
“Hey, short stack,” he said. “Happy birthday.”
“Where’ve you been? We’ve been waiting on you to cut the cake.” With that she grabbed his hand and led him to the front of the room where a cake in the shape of a Volkswagen Beetle was parked.
“Here you go, Daddy. You do the honors.” She handed him the knife. At that moment, somewhere in the back of the room someone started singing “Happy Birthday.” He searched the throng of faces and found his wife’s. She winked at him. She knew he’d been dreading.
When the Beetle had nothing left of a trunk or a backseat, Mike retrieved from the closet the bag he’d brought home.
“Now, uh, listen up, short stack,” he said. And she did.
“Your mother and I, well, we know you’re gonna be drivin’ soon, and listen, we want you to be careful,” he said. She nodded.
“We know you’re gonna go places and do things that, well, we’d rather you didn’t do,” he said. Everyone giggled.
“Look, I don’t like this, but, uh, your mother, well, she thinks it’s a good idea. So, uh, here,” he said and thrust the bag into her hand. “It’s only for emergencies.”
She reached in the bag, squealed with delight, and frantically sought the nearest outlet into which she plugged the charger for her new cell phone.
* * * *
Text only ©2011 Jessica Cocita. All Rights Reserved