Friday, December 12, 2014

The first chapter of Love at the Apple Inn

Here's the first chapter of Love at the Apple Inn. Depending on my editor, it should be live in early January. It's a Rose Arbor novella (about 80 pages) featuring Janey, a minor character from The Rhyme's Library. The novella will be included in the Authors of Main Street spring anthology.

I'm not sure where I got the idea for this book. I think I wanted to show a contrast between a simple, private life versus a very public life. It's interesting to me how, as a public, we tend to idolize celebrities, and in doing so, although we don't mean to, we make their lives miserable. We love them, but our love hurts them, and keeps them from leading a normal life or forming real relationships.

Obviously, I don't know what I'm taking about. I'm not famous, and I'm not even closely related to anyone famous. But I do watch the news. Although, I don't watch TMZ or read People magazine. Really, I don't know what it's like to be a Justin Bieber or a Lindsey Lohan. I just think a life in that sort of limelight would be really, really hard.

Derrick wanted to stand up and walk away from the girl leaning on his chest. She smelled of wine and her product-stiff hair tickled his chin. But when a waiter placed another drink in front of him, he picked up the glass. Even as his head told him he had had enough, his throat burned in anticipation. The cold glass felt good in his hand.
His gaze wandered around the room, taking in the hot-tarts as phony as their perky breasts, the guys, a few almost as plastered as himself, and rare breed that defied gender generalization.
Techno music blasted through the smoky air. He hated techno music, thought it sounded like a rumbly stomach felt. But it didn’t give him a stomach ache. It made his head hurt. And his heart. It also made him sad, because it was like music from a machine—not a person. Someone once told him that he would like it if he were drunk, but that person didn’t know shiest, because he was almost always drunk and he still hated techno music.
He glanced at the girl smiling up at him. Her features swam, and he couldn’t focus. Straight teeth? Brown eyes? Did he know her? She looked like Jen Lopez, and he’d always been blonde hound. Goose-bumps pimpled her arms. Weird. He was hot, and she was cold.
He pushed away from her, and swayed on his feet.
“Where you going, baby?” the Jen-girl slurred.
Derrick held up his finger, shushing her, and made his way through the crowded bar to the DJ behind the glass. He knocked until the moron wearing the headphones looked at him. Derrick slid his finger across his throat.
The DJ narrowed his eyes at him, before catching a glance at the manager, dressed in black and hiding near the bar. The manager gave a small nod.
The squeaky, thumping sounds stopped. No one other than Derrick seemed to notice, but he sighed in relief and let the tension between his shoulders ease. Unsure of what to do next, he stumbled onto the small stage, sat at the piano and played.
A hush fell over the room as he sang an old Irish ballad.
 The soft winds sing across the sea,
While here I sit all alone and cold.
Rapt in the rays of memory,
That flash from Golden days of old,
For oh, the oceans murmuring tune,
Speaks to my bosom of a time,
When life was as a harvest moon,
Or warbling of a sylvan rhyme.
The piano could never replace a fiddle, but since it was better than the techno-shiest, he continued until the Jen-girl put her hand on his shoulder.
“Baby, that song’s depressing,” she whined.
But Derrick ignored her and continued singing the song he remembered his grandfather singing.
“Whose eyes like Saint's from sculptured niche,
Look into mine for evermore
Full voices 'mid the garden flowers,
To soothe and sanctify the day,
These once were mine but frozen hours,
Have stolen them all to depts away”
“Let’s go, baby,” the Jen-girl said, pressing against him. “There’s a party at Mac’s in Brentwood.”
He lifted his fingers and a few of the half-sober people in the room booed, begging him to stay and play. Standing, he gave the crowd a smile and a half bow.
Brentwood. He lived in Brentwood. Maybe someone could drop him off, because even though he didn’t know the girl on his arm, or where he was, or what day it was, he did know he didn’t belong a wheelbarrow, let alone a steering wheel. He had drowned out the driver in him drinks ago. Killed him with a shot glass, which, as it turns out, can be as lethal as a shot gun. The Jen Lopez girl took his hand and led him out the door.
A car with leather seats that smelled of cigarettes and fried food careened down a canyon road. Derrick let the car’s swaying control his movements. It occurred to him that they weren’t heading for Brentwood, after all. Somehow they had left the city. Derrick didn’t recognize the guy in the driver’s seat, but he did know that whoever he was, he probably wasn’t any more sober than himself.
Rocking with each hair-pin turn, Derrick thought about death without fear or sadness. The alcohol and drugs had muted any panic, and he found he could consider his life from a spectator’s perspective. Curious. At that moment, he didn’t care whether he lived or died. He didn’t even have the emotional energy to muster a slow down or a hey, let’s call a taxi. It was almost as if he was already dead.
In the upper room of the Rhyme’s Library, the children sat transfixed as Janey read from The Velveteen Rabbit. The light from the window shone upon their rapt and upturned faces. Most sat cross legged on the rag rug, some leaned against their mothers, a couple fidgeted, unable to sit still, but there was a hush in the room as Janey read.
“‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real.”
 “’Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’”
Janey came to the end of Margery Williams’ story and slowly closed the book. The children began to reluctantly stir.
“Miss Janey,” Henry chirped, his blue eyes gazing at her from under a lock of shockingly white hair. “Do you think toys can really die?”
 “Not really, do you?” Janey stretched out her legs and wiggled her toes. She loved story-hour, and she was okay sitting on the floor with the kids, but somehow when she read, she would forget to move and her legs or feet would fall asleep. She thought it an okay occupational hazard to have.
Henry’s forehead crinkled as he thought.
“Maybe when toys die, they become zombies,” Brock said, as he pushed his glasses further up onto his nose.
Janey smiled. “I don’t think toys die, and I’m pretty sure they don’t become zombies.”
“But how can you know?” Brock stood up and straightened his shoulders, reminding Janey that Brock’s dad was an attorney. She wondered if a love for a good argument could be inherited.
“I’ve never seen a toy zombie, have you?” Janey stood and held the book to her chest. She loved lots of stories, but the Velveteen Rabbit was her favorite.
“Have you ever seen Jesus?” Brock asked.
“Hum, no,” Janey said.
“Do you believe in Jesus?”
Janey put her hand to her forehead. “What does Jesus have to do with toy zombies?” she asked, but she could guess where this line of questioning was headed.
“Just because you’ve never seen something doesn’t mean that it’s not real,” Brock told her.
“Right.” Janey looked around at the children staring at her with big, questioning eyes and worried about what they would say when they got home. Someone would tattle, and Janey knew the Friends of the Library would be talking about the Jesus and toy zombie debate if she didn’t change the subject soon.
Downstairs, someone screamed.
Now what? Janey wondered. As far as Janey knew, no one had screamed in the Rhyme Library since Charlotte Rhyme had been found dead in the basement last year.
Footsteps pounded up the stairs.
Emma, a volunteer, looking wild-eyed and grief stricken, motioned for her little sister, Gabby. “Let’s go.”
“Emma,” Janey said, using her hushed librarian tone, “what’s going on? Who’s screaming?”
“Jessie and Amber.” Emma twisted a lock of her dark curls around her finger, something she often did when stressed about the mis-filing of books, or a computer break-down. “They just heard about Derrick Cordell.” Emma’s voice cracked and her eyes welled with unshed tears.
“The singer?” Janey didn’t follow Derrick Cordell’s career, but she would have to be living in a cave in the hindermost part of the world—which, of course, some people argued was exactly where Rose Arbor was— to not to have heard of the heart-throb.
Emma nodded and choked back a sob. Tears spilled down her face. “He’s dead.”
Henry turned to Janey. “Will he be a zombie, too?”
Janey put her hand on top of Henry’s brown curls. “I hope not,” she said.
3 Months Later
Eric Roudel sat on the edge of his bed gazing out at the Caribbean Sea. The sun glistened on the white sand. The trade winds blew through the window, ruffling the white curtains. Someone somewhere played reggae on a xylophone.
He had grown to hate the tediously, gloriously sunny weather. It was like that Clap Along Get Happy Song forever sounding over the airwaves. He wanted dark, brooding music. He longed for a riotous thunder storm. He wanted what he knew he could never have again.
He wanted to go home.
Standing, he faced north. Even if he stayed dry for decades, he couldn’t go back to Rosslare Harbour. According to his therapist, if he wanted to maintain his fragile sobriety, he needed to avoid alcohol. Forever. And trying to avoid whiskey in Ireland was like trying to avoid a Kardashian on TMZ.
He longed for the sharp, bone-chilling damp, the crash of waves, and the craggy shore. The calm, unruffled Caribbean endless blue was like an ocean on Prozac. Sure, the ocean was the ocean, but the Caribbean Sea was as unlike the wild Atlantic as a toy poodle was to a Doberman.
Rap, rap, rap.
“Come in,” Eric said, his gaze not leaving the window.
“Good day,” Lee said, as he pushed into the room with a tray full of food. “I see you’re wearing pants. Must be a good day. Got something special planned?”
Eric grunted and eyed the food. Sometimes he felt so much like a caged animal, like a parrot in a beautiful aviary that he resorted to guttural noises. Sitting at the table, he considered the grapefruit halves, the oatmeal topped with berries, and the turkey sausage links. Even this healthy breakfast should have made him put on weight, but Eric, already emaciated by his substance abuse, didn’t gain a pound. He had always seemed to float above the common problems plaguing everyone else. His life, overall, had been as sunny and easy as the Caribbean Sea.
So why had he destroyed it?
Why couldn’t he be as happy as Lee? Lee wore the same thing every day: a pair of cargo shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, flip flops, a red string tying back his dreadlocks, and a smile.
 It had taken Eric months to get used to eating three meals. Breakfast had always, until recently, made his stomach roll. When he had first arrived, he had flushed most of his breakfast down the toilet as soon as Lee left the room, rationalizing that that was the foods ultimate destination anyway. He was merely expediting the process. But Lee must have become suspicious, because he had since found a reason to stay until Eric finished his meals.
After setting the tray down, Lee settled into the chair in the corner, and propped his feet up on the ottoman. He generally liked to talk about his girlfriend, Marla, and today he announced, “Marla and I are done.”
So, maybe Lee wasn’t as happy as Eric had thought. “I’m sorry to hear that. What happened?”
Lee used a few colorful words to describe Marla.
“Then I guess you could come with me.”
 “Where you going?” Lee asked, faking an interest.
Eric knew Lee would never leave Marla. He might curse her, but he would never leave her.
“I’m not sure yet,” Eric said before he spooned oatmeal in his mouth.
“Then why would I join you?”
Eric swallowed a slug of orange juice before he said, “I’m giving you an out.”
Lee chuckled. “Your last way out landed you here. So, no thank you, sir. I be guessing I a’staying here. You should, too. This is a nice place.”
With a very nice price tag. But Eric knew that Lee didn’t expect him to stay on the island forever. “When you going to get me a guitar?”
Lee shrugged, reminding Eric that even though no one considered him a suicide risk, the center had strict “health and safety” policies. “If I wanted to off myself, don’t you think I would have been successful before now? Besides—who wants to die by way of a guitar string? If I wanted to, I’d drown myself. There’s plenty of water.”
Lee raised a bushy eyebrow. “But you already tried that. That’s why you’re here.”
“Different type of water,” Eric mumbled.
“Anything is deadly if you take it the wrong way,” Lee said.
Eric wiped his mouth and set down his napkin. “I’m serious, Lee. Why don’t you come with me?”
“Nah. You got to go and make yourself a new life.”
“I’ve got nothing.”
How many people had to scrap their old life and make a new one at only thirty? At his tri-life crisis, he had nothing to show for all his living.
“Now, Mr. Roudel, how be saying that? You know that’s not true.”
A voice in his head reminded him of the millions in the Caribbean banks, his sixteen thousand square foot Brentwood mansion, (what had he been thinking? He must have been drunk when he bought that mausoleum,) and his Tesla. Where had he left the car? Was it still in the garage? Shiest, good thing he didn’t own a cat.
“I don’t have a Marla.”
Lee burst out laughing. “You don’t want my Marla. She’s too fat for you.”
Eric bent over his breakfast. “If that’s what you think, she’s not good enough for you, and I’m going to tell her to whip your skinny—”
Footsteps pounded into the room, and Leslie burst through the door. Her dark hair looked while and her olive skin was pink and flushed. She paused to catch her breath before she said, “Mr. Cordell, you got to go!”
Lee bounced to his feet. “Who knows?”
Leslie pushed her hair off her face. “Everyone knows.”
“How?” Lee and Eric demanded at the same time.
“It doesn’t matter,” Eric threw down his napkin and climbed to his feet. “I knew I couldn’t hide out here forever. We all knew this day would come.”
“No,” Lee said, his voice turning steely. “You are not going back to your old life.”
“Then where do you suggest I go? I can’t go back to Ireland. I don’t want to go back to L.A.”
“Right now, you can hide out at Marla’s.” Lee stood and took hold of Eric’s arm. “Three months ago, you were as good as dead. That ain’t happening again. Not while I’m breathing.”
“It’s like Elvis sightings,” Janey told Emma as they worked together shelving books. “Everyone thinks they’ve spotted him. Next thing we know, they’ll be finding Eric Cordell’s face on potatoes.”
“It’s not like Elvis, at all. They’ve proven the…” Emma choked up, and then cleared her throat, "the body they thought was his, isn’t.”
“Because of the teeth?” Janey asked.
“That, and other things,” Emma said, her face stony.
Janey touched Emma’s arm. “I hope he is alive, but if he is—where is he?”
Emma sniffed and looked up at the ceiling. “I think if he was dead, I would know it.”
“Really?” Janey studied Emma. They were only five years apart, but sometimes she felt like Emma’s grandmother. Janey bit back a sigh. In some ways, living with an alcoholic mother had made her grow up too fast. But in other ways, it was like she was trapped in her childhood home, because she had to look out for her baby brother. When she had graduated from school she’d been offered a scholarship to Western Washington University, but the thought of leaving Noah alone with her mom kept her Rose Arbor.
Emma interrupted her thoughts. “We share a spiritual connection.”
Janey loved Emma. No matter how dark her thoughts, Emma always managed to make her smile. “Does Matt know?”
Emma tossed her dark curls over her shoulder. “Why would Matt care?”
Janey stopped fighting her smile. “I think he would like to know.”
“I don’t care what Matt thinks.” Emma deliberately shifted her attention to the books on the cart.
“What I think about what?” Matt stepped out from behind a shelf, and tucked his earbuds in his pocket.
Emma flushed an interesting shade of pink. Janey envied Emma’s coloring—it was so dramatic and changed so rapidly. Janey, on the other hand, was blonde, pale and about as interesting as vanilla.
“About Derrick Cordell,” Janey said.
“That pretty boy?” Matt scoffed, and straightened his spine so he stood taller.
“You got something against pretty?” Emma asked.
“I like pretty women, not boys,” Matt said.
“Good to know,” Janey muttered.
Matt ignored her. “You need a ride home?” he asked Emma. “I brought my dad’s bike.” He showed her the helmet he had tucked behind his back. “I brought this for you.”
Emma’s cheeks flushed again.
Janey wanted to ask if Mr. Harnett knew Matt had his bike, but she bit her lip and went back to shelving books. She might feel like a grandma, but she didn’t need to act like one. “We’re almost done here,” she told Emma. “You should go.”
“Are you sure?” Emma asked, glancing around at the empty, but practically immaculate library.
“Absolutely,” Janey said. “I can finish here on my own.”
After locking up the library, Janey climbed in her truck and offered a silent prayer that it could take her home. The Toyota coughed a few times before roaring to life, and Janey sighed in relief as she pulled out of the parking lot and headed west.
Minutes later, she pulled into the parking lot of the Apple Inn. She loved the inn, she always had, even when it had been an old and abandoned ramshackle, Janey had loved coming there as a little girl. Even now after all these months, it was hard to believe that she got to live in it. So what if she got the attic room without air-conditioning or central air? She used a fan in the summer, and a space heater in the winter, and every day she got to walk through the cranberry red front doors like she owned the place.
Janey let herself in, and the bell chimed a welcome.
Victoria hustled through the spacious hall, wiping her hands on her apron. Most of her dark, curly hair had escaped its hair pins and it looked almost as frantic as Victoria’s face. “Oh, heavens, Janey, I’m so glad you’re home!” She dropped her voice to a whisper and motioned for Janey to follow her into the kitchen. “We’ve got cranksters staying! They were supposed to be in the Golden Delicious, but I had to move them out to the Granny Smith cottage because they didn’t like the birds in the trees outside their windows.”
Janey passed through the large kitchen and headed for the mud room where she hung up her coat on a hook beside a collection of aprons and traded her shoes for a pair of slippers she kept underneath a bench. “And there aren’t birds in the trees next to the cottage?”
“Well, of course there are! But I didn’t know what else to do!” Victoria rolled her eyes and went back to her rolling pin on the spacious butcher block counter. “They seem happy…well, at least not as cranky…there.” She covered her hands in butter and shaped the dough into a large circle.
Janey collected a paring knife, a cutting board and sat down at the table in front of a big bowl of apples. “Don’t we have someone renting the cottage?”
Victoria sighed and sprinkled brown sugar, allspice and cinnamon over the dough. “He’ll get here tomorrow.”
Janey peeled, cored and chopped apples. “And when do the cranksters leave?”
“Not soon enough.”
Janey nodded, understanding. “You want me to make up the Gala?”
“Or the Pink Lady? No wait—it’s just a man, staying alone.”
“Definitely not the Pink Lady, then.” Janey took her apple bits and dumped them on top of Victoria’s dough.
Victoria rolled the dough, forming an apple, cinnamon roll that, come morning, would warm the hearts of even the crankiest, crankster. “I don’t know what I would do without you,” Victoria said.
“You would hire someone else.” Janey leaned over the kissed the older woman’s cheek. “But I don’t know where I would be without you.”
With his hair dyed black and a UW baseball cap on his head, Eric pulled into the stadium’s crowded parking lot. He adjusted his glasses, and gave himself another critical glance in the rearview mirror before climbing out of his rented Subaru. All around him, other peoples’ families and friends milled. A few had portable barbecues set up, and the smell of roasting meat mingled with the sharp tangy odor of beer. He braced himself.
He could do this.
He had chosen Seattle for a number of reasons—the music, the vibe, the gloomy weather that matched his mood—but mostly because it reminded him of Ireland. Finding Rose Arbor on a map had been just a fluke, but he hoped a providential one, since he intended to make it his home. He knew that Rose Arbor could never replace his village, Rosslare Harbour, but since he couldn’t go home, he hoped to find a next best thing.
Eric tucked his hands into the pockets of his Levi jeans and made his way to the entrance. No one noticed him. The crowd in the stadium surged around him, reminding him that it really was much easier to get lost, and feel lonely, in a crowd than on an almost deserted island.
Janey pulled her battered Toyota pickup truck into the Husky Stadium parking lot. Beside her, Noah bounced in his seat, his excitement rolling off of him, making Janey smile.
“We’re going to get Husky-dogs, right? Uncle Ted promised me Husky-dogs.” Noah thought for a moment. “But did he give you money for lunch? Because if he didn’t, that’s okay.”
Janey checked her wallet for the tickets and cash. “No…he gave me money.” Which wasn’t true, but she knew from her own experience that Uncle Ted regularly made promises he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, keep. Noah would learn that disappointing lesson soon enough. He didn’t need to learn it on his birthday. At least Ted had given her the tickets.
As Noah hustled out the door, Janey disconnected her phone from the power cord. Before leaving home, Janey had downloaded her homework. She didn’t want to study per se during the game, but maybe when Noah wasn’t looking she could catch up on her reading for her online accounting class. She tucked her phone into her bag and followed Noah to the entrance.
Noah held onto her hand, and jumped more than walked up the concrete concourse. Janey glanced at the tickets—the seats on the fiftieth yard line made her happy and mad. Happy, because she knew that Noah would be thrilled, but mad, because she knew that the seats were outrageously expensive and Noah could have used the money for much more important things…like milk, socks, or underwear.
But knowing that Noah would gladly trade-in, or abandon altogether, his underwear for a chance to see the Huskies up-close and personal, Janey steered Noah to their seats.
“Can we get the Huskydogs now?” Noah asked.
“Now? You can’t be hungry. I just watched you eat five bowls of Captain Crunch!” Janey doubled checked the row numbers as they descended closer to the field where the cheerleaders shook their sparkly pompoms. “We’ll get the dogs at half time.”
“Before half time!” Noah shouted over his shoulder to be heard over the band. “If we wait until half time, then there will be a long line and they might run out.”
Janey put her hand on Noah’s shoulder to keep him from bumping into a man carrying a baby dressed in a dog suit. “I don’t think they’ll run out.”
“But there’s so many people here, they might, right? So, we need to get them before half time.”
Janey pointed at their seats in front of a couple of gray-haired men, and a woman with knitting needles and a ball of yarn. A family with several children who looked younger than Noah sat in front of them, and a group of students were beside them. The students wore purple Husky shirts and hats and seemed to shuffle seats a lot. Janey hoped they would be louder and noisier than Noah, because she worried about him bothering the senior citizens and the lady-knitter.
Noah wiggled in his seat, making it bounce up and down, but once the players ran on to the field, he focused. “See there, number 32. That’s Nolan Keener. He’s the first string quarter back.”
“Huh, huh.” Janey’s gaze followed Noah’ finger.
“And that guy, number 25, he’s the running back.”
Janey smiled as if she cared.
Beside her, one of the students chuckled.
A whistle blew, a horn blasted, and a Husky kicked the ball.
“Ugh!” Noah groaned with the crowd when the ball landed near the 30 yard line.
Janey nodded, tried to look somber, and tucked her hands in her pockets. Her fingers closed around her phone. Her thumb sought out the on button. While the teams faced off, Janey took a quick glance at her taxation preparation homework.
“First down!” Noah groaned.
Janey looked up, sent Noah and conciliatory smile, and went back to her phone.
The student beside her chuckled again.
Janey shot him a quick glance that turned into a stare. He looked slightly older than the other students, and oddly familiar. His blue eyes gazed back at her through dark rimmed glasses. His jet black hair didn’t match his skin, and while it wasn’t so unusual for a guy to dye his hair, it seemed off with this guy. He wore a purple University of Washington sweatshirt that looked way too big for him, no name jeans, and a pair of Ranger boots. Guys that died their hair black typically dressed Goth, or Emo. This guy didn’t fit a stereo-type. In fact, taking note of the wrinkles around his tired eyes, she wasn’t even sure he was a student.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to stare. You just…” Janey stuttered, “look weirdly familiar somehow.”
The guy’s face turned white and his hand trembled. “We haven’t met,” he said in an accent that Janey couldn’t place. “I would have remembered.”
Janey nodded, smiling. “You probably just look like someone on TV.”
“Hey,” one of the students leaned over, “what about me? Do you think I look like someone on TV?” He batted his long eyelashes at Janey, grinning and reminding her of a large Teddy Bear. But she couldn’t tell him that.
“Sure,” Noah said, “you look just like a wesen from Grimm.”
“What?” the student sputtered. “Well, you look like—”
The insult was lost in the crowd’s roar.
“Interception!” Noah yelled. He climbed onto his seat so he could see over the people standing in front of him.
While everyone else watched the Husky’s lineman carry the ball to the ten yard line, Janey checked her phone.
The guy in the black rimmed glasses chuckled again.
Janey frowned at him.
He leaned over and whispered in her ear. “You don’t really give a rip about the Husky’s, do you?”
Janey gave Noah a quick glance, before telling the non-student to hush.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell.”
Noah perched on the edge of his seat. “We’ll get a touch down here, or at least a field goal.”
“So, who do you think I look like?” the nonstudent asked, leaning in so that his shoulder nearly touched hers.
“I’m sorry?” Janey sat back to see his face more clearly. She realized that if he didn’t look so tired, he would be incredibly handsome.
“You said I reminded you of someone. I want to know who.”
“Really? You might not like my answer.”
“What if I told you I think you look like a younger, prettier Nicole Kidman?”
“Do you want me to reciprocate and tell you that I think you look like a young George Clooney? Or be honest, and tell you that you look like Curious George?”
The non-student seemed satisfied with this, and leaned back in his chair just as everyone around them bounced to their feet. “I don’t look like Curious George.”
“Maybe not, but you’re kind of acting like him.”
“Ouch,” he said with a grin that let her know she hadn’t hurt his feelings.
“Touch down!” Noah screamed. “I knew it! I knew Nolan could do it!”
Janey clapped along with everyone else while Noah bellowed out the Husky fight song. He knew all the words, while Janey had to read the jumbo-tron to keep up.
The nonstudent kept his lips pressed together.
“You’re not a Husky die-hard?” Janey asked when the song ended and they settled back into their seats.
He shook his head. “I’m more a Rugby guy.”
“Yeah? Then why are you here?”
“It’s really hard to find a rugby in the States.”
“Where you from?”
He bit his lip and took a long time to answer. “The Caribbean.”
“Oh yeah.” She leaned away from him. “That’s it. You look like Johnny Dep! Captain Jack Sparrow!”
He seemed pleased. “Really?”
 “Sort of.” Janey shrugged. “Except your clothes aren’t so raggedy.”
“I’ll take Dep over Monkey George any day.”
Noah tugged on her hand. “Janey, do you think it’s time to get the dogs?”
“Um, sure. Do you want to come with me, or stay here?”
“Stay here!”
“Okay, but if I leave you here, you have to promise me you won’t move.”
Noah froze in place, and Janey laughed.
She turned to the guy next her. “Can you keep your eye on him?” she whispered.
He nodded. “Maybe you can read while you stand in line.”
“See, aren’t you glad you didn’t wait?” Noah asked thirty minutes later when the half time buzzer blew and thousands of people headed for the bathrooms and concession stands.
 “You were right. Again.” Janey nodded and bit into her hotdog.
“Besides, you want to be here for the camera contests,” Noah told her.
“Camera contests?”
“Heck yeah!” He pointed at the jumbo-tron. “See, they’re doing the Rock It Out contest now.” The camera flashed to a girl in the audience who pretended to beat a set of drums with imaginary sticks. Her hair whipped around her head, moving faster than her hands.
Noah climbed on his seat and rocked out. Janey watched, silently praying he wouldn’t fall onto the senior citizens or puncture himself with to the knitting needles.
“Yeah, dude,” the Teddy Bear student said. “They’ve moved onto the kiss-cam.”
Noah’s hand froze mid-air. “Ah, gross.” He climbed off his chair and settled back into his seat. “I hate this part.”
When the camera focused on a couple, the guy grabbed the girl and bent her over backwards in a Fred Astaire sweeping kiss. The second couple had more reservations, and did little more than peck at each other. The crowd booed.
Janey snuck her phone out of her pocket. She was reading about tax exemptions when Noah nudged her. “You’re on the camera!”
Janey dropped her phone back into her pocket, just as the Teddy Bear student grabbed her and planted his beer-stained lips on hers. He grinned as he pulled away.

Janey smiled politely and looked over his shoulder to watch the man in the black rimmed glasses walk away with shaking hands.

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