Ariion Kathleen Brindley


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Ivory Tower


By M. J. Brewer


The warm sun beat down on his exposed face and bare chest, stirring up feelings of radiance that heíd never felt before. There hardly seemed to be a cloud in the sky as the circling birds weaved in and out of the gently gusts of wind. In the distance, a blurry white apparition rose from the horizon, but he couldnít tell what it was just yet. Brian shifted his eyes to the right and saw a sand crab making its way toward him, daringly, without faltering a second. Daring little guy, arenít you, he thought as he watched the crab come within a few inches of his face before a dark shadow appeared, kicking it off to the side.

It had been less than a week since this whole charade had begun, driving him endlessly mad as he searched for answers. The last day of school before summer break heíd been headed for the building door when someone cut in front of him. Before he could stop his hurried pace he stumbled, knocking himself as well as the culprit of destiny with him to the floor.

Picking himself up, he leaned over to help the girl stand and noticed her short skirt which showed just a glimpse of her pink underwear beneath. "Mother, mother, I declare, I see someoneís underwearÖ" he thought in the back of his mind as he chuckled to himself. The girl turned her head to face him and grabbed the hem of her skirt, pulling it down as she pushed herself up to a seated position on the cold floor.

"Sorry about that," Brian said as he stood and helped her to her feet. They both gathered her books when Brian stopped short, holding the last book in his hand. He read the title cover and looked at the picture on the front. "Sentinel 403" was the title which was listed above the photo of an airliner wreck. The picture was from a distance, probably a helicopter shot, but it was definitely from the air. The girl stood holding her hand out, "Do you mind?"

"Sorry," he offered her the book which she snatched as if it were priceless and sheíd almost lost it. "Accidents happen," she retorted as she flipped her short, black hair that was cut almost like a boyís. Her eyes were an emerald green, outlined by thick, dark lashes that hovered under relatively thick eyebrows. Brian thought that sheíd probably be quite pretty if she smiled, which she did for just a second, sarcastically before she turned to leave.

Something about her seemed challenging to him, probably the attitude, he decided as he jogged up next to her on the other side of the door. Getting a couple of steps ahead of her, he walked backwards, facing her as he talked, "My nameís Brian." She merely viewed him as some sort of mutt walking through the streets of Beverly Hills. "Whatís your name?" he asked, still keeping up with her on the sidewalk. "Tracy," she replied just before she saw him tripping backwards over the bench, his brown curls almost seemed to straighten for a second as he fell back. All of his books tumbled, once again out of his arms, littering the lawn. Tracy smiled and finally quit walking as she began gathering up his books this time. "Donít need to do much to capture your attention, I see," he quipped as he brushed the grass off of his pants and accepted his books from her with a sardonic grin covering his face.

"Schoolís over," she explained, "Whatís the point of getting to know someone now?"

"Iíd like to, thatís all," he beamed at her as he managed to get his books back into some sort of order. "Besides, it seems as if we might have something in common."

"Well it certainly isnít walking!" she scoffed as she began her journey again down the sidewalk, weaving between the other students that were just as happy to be free, even if it was just for a while. Everyoneís plans for the summer seemed to be better than they were last year.

It was quiet for a second between them, although they could hear other kids yelling to each other back and forth across the parking lot while they giggled.

"NoÖ joking aside," he cleared his throat and blinked while he caught his breath, "That book that you have about the planeÖ"

Her bouncy walk came to an abrupt halt as she looked into his eyes as if some sort of connection had just been made between the two of them and they shared a secret. "What about it?"

"May I ask why youíre reading it?" he leaned languidly against a tree off to the side, "I mean, if you donít want to tell me, thatís alright too."

There was a pause before her eyes lowered to the ground. "Last summer my parents were coming back from a vacation in Europe when their plane came down and they were killed."

"Iím sorry," he murmured quietly.

"Anyone ever tell you that you apologize too much?" she laughed, catching the self-consciousness of his expression before the somberness came back into her voice. "They were going to come home just in time for my seventeenth birthday, but they never made it. I waited for themÖ" Her green eyes darkened as they stared into another world which was far away from the present. "My aunt didnít want to tell me about the crash until sheíd found out if they were survivors or not. Thatís who I live with now, Aunt Betsy."

"I think I know how you feel," he answered as he reached out a hand and laid it gently on her arm, feeling the warm, soft skin beneath his fingers.

She flinched, pulling rudely away, "No you donít! Donít try to lay that patronizing bull on me and expect me to take it!" Tracy appeared as if she would walk away until Brian began to talk, "No, my father died in a plane accident as well. It was ten years ago, but still I havenít got my parents anymore. My mother is in Salem, sheís confined to a wheelchair and sheís not really all there." He turned his finger in small circles by his temple while he rolled his eyes. "Iím told that the accident really did more emotional damage than anything else."

"That isnít funny!" Tracy told him.

"No, but it was so long ago, I was only seven but I understand what itís like to live with relatives."

For a brief moment her face appeared as if she believed him, but then doubt set in, "I hope your not mocking me just to share in a conversation with me."

"No," he said as he shifted his books to one arm and held out his other hand, "My name is Brian."

"I know, you told me," but then she understood what he was doing and returned the gesture, "Tracy." They shook hands and he offered to travel with her, since they lived in the same direction.

When theyíd reached her house she stood shyly, "Well, thanks for the discussion and everything. Too bad we didnít meet before today. We may have become pretty good friends."

Brian stammered for a second, which was not like him at all. As a matter of fact, since he met Tracy his sure-footed-ness seemed to have abandoned him altogether. "Are you going out of town for the summer, or are you gonna hang out here?"

"Iíll be around," she smiled before she brushed her bangs off to the side with her delicate hand, "Why?"

"I was just wondering if you were going to be busy tonight, thatís all."

Standing in one spot, she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. "Tonight, Iím actually free."

"No charge then?" he chimed.

Her eyes squinted up and her nose wrinkled, "What?"

"Never mindÖ", but he continued, "Want to get a bite or something?"

"Sure, what time?"

"How Ďbout seven? Thatíll give us time to unwind and get ready."

They agreed on a time and each went into their own homes to prepare for the night which would change the rest of their lives.

 

 

The aftershave that Brian added to his cleanly shaven face was what his mother had sent him for Christmas. Regardless of the fact that sheíd bought it for him, or so he was told, he liked it anyway. The smell was sort of like a new pair of leather gloves, fresh and clean. Taking one last shot of himself in the mirror, he decided that he looked the best he was going to and flipped the light off before switching it on for one last look.

A few minutes later, he pulled up in front of Tracyís house in his little red pickup. The model was older and it had a few spots of rust on it here and there, but it was better than some kids had. As he cut the engine, he noticed her standing on her front porch with a book pressed against her chest as she calmly walked over to the passenger side of the truck and waited. Brian leaned across the seat and gave the door a push. The door swung open, bouncing on its hinges and she climbed in. Tracy set the book across her knees and left the door hanging open. "Are you ready?" he prodded her to close the door so that they could leave. "Yes, I suppose," she answered.

"Would you like to close the door then?" he asked as if she were a child needing to be coaxed along.

"I will if you want me to. Of course," she cocked her head, "A real gentleman would have opened it from the outside."

Without another word, Brian climbed out of the truck and rounded to her side as he pushed the door closed with a swipe of his hand. Tilting in through the window, "Is there anything else I should know about what a gentleman does or doesnít do before we go?"

She narrowed her eyes and considered the situation before she said, "I could get out, you know."

"No," he climbed back in his own side and started the truck up, "Iím dressed now, letís just go."

He took her to one of the three restaurants in town; the one that served Mexican food and was family owned and operated. It was the Café de Moran and the food had an excellent aroma as it often did in the outskirts of Mill Hollow.

The two of them were shown to their table by a beautiful, Mexican girl about the age of sixteen, Micaela Moran. Taking her seat first, Tracy graciously waited until Brian pushed her chair in underneath her. There was a moment of visual contact which said that they understood each other now. Sitting across the small table from her, he slid his legs under the red, fringed table cloth and waited until Micaela handed each of them a menu. In nothing short of an instant, Brian tilted his menu toward the waitress and pointed with his finger to an item. The humored waitress quickly scratched it down on her order pad. Attempting to hide the smirk that she felt creeping onto her lips, Tracy replied, "Me gusta dos carne asadas y dos sangrias, por favor." Micaela nodded to each of them, "Gracias." Then, she left.

The south of the border music that was being played in the background was just enough to be heard, but not overpowering. It reminded Tracy of the Mexican Hat Dance, while it simply reminded Brian of the cartoon character Speedy Gonzales. "I was going to remind you that youíre suppose to order your dateís food and then your own," Tracy began before receiving an "odd man out" look. "Do you want to eat?" he blatantly requested.

"Iím sorry, but Iím just not usedÖ" she didnít get to finish before he interrupted her. "Iím paying for the meal, I drove us here, I asked you out and Iím trying to do everything the right way, but can you give me a break? This is the only place Iíve ever lived and Iíve never been taught how to beó."

"Youíve never learned any etiquette?" she finished for him.

"No, that wasnít the word I was looking for," he put his index finger to his temple, tapping it a few times in mock thought before he responded. "I guess Iím just not as pontifical as you are."

"Pontifical?" she pulled back, with a look of sheer confusion cluttering her face.

"Yes!" he told her, "You knowópompous!" Then he leaned back, folding his arms across his chest with a defiant smirk across his face.

Without another word she got up from the table and stormed across the restaurant to the door, pushing it open and waltzing outside.

Micaela returned with the two drinks and set them down at the table. "El bano?" she politely asked Brian as he shrugged his shoulders. Shaking her head, she twirled her brightly colored skirt around her legs before she left. Brian figured he was paying for the drinks, so he might as well drink them. She wanted to be such a pill, heíd let her! As far as he was concerned, she could walk home. Besides, it wasnít like sheíd be able to spread rumors around school tomorrowÖ he laughed to himself. Then the door swung back open and in walked Tracy holding the book that sheíd brought with her under one arm.

"Why did you bring that?" he demanded as if it could possibly make the night go any worse.

No words were spoken as Tracy grabbed her chair and set it next to his. Leaning across the table, she snatched her alcohol-free sangria and sat down, opening the book. In the center of the book there were some newspaper clippings folded neatly in half. "I kind of figured that since the only time we get along is talking about catastrophes, perhaps weíd better cut to the chase. After all, that is the real reason that weíre both here tonight, isnít it? To relate to someone else thatís survived the treachery?"

Brianís head had been slanted down to watch his hands as they played with the napkin that was spread across his lap. Tracy didnít tell him to put it there, he already knew about that part. He was humiliated and ashamed because the truth of the matter is, that was why they were here. It hadnít crossed his mind before, but that had to be it. Numbly, he reached over to pick up one of the clippings and unfolded it in the book. The picture looked familiar to him, but not absolutely. Squinting his eyes, he leaned in to the book and picked the clipping up, looking harder at it. Heíd seen it before, he was sure. But this photograph was taken in South Bend, Indiana, it said at the top, September first. Brian had never been to Indiana and didnít know anyone there, but it just seemed so familiar. "This was the wreck that your parents were in?" he asked her as she nodded, searching his face to get an idea what he was feeling.

"Okay, now look at this," she said as she pulled the clipping away to expose the photo underneath that was also in color. It was the same people in this photo and they had the identical forlorn expressions covering their faces as they looked on in awe. Brianís eyes went from the clipping to the book and back again, picking up the red-haired kid in the green-striped shirt. Next to him was an older woman, in both pictures and in both pictures she was holding her knitting to her side as if sheíd been interrupted in the middle of it. In front of her, there were two little kids that seemed to be identical twins with a mother behind them in each one. Far in the distance, there was an out-of-focus, white smudge projecting from the ground, high above their heads in the binary photos. "Wow," he realized that he was beginning to sweat a little and could feel it begin to trickle down his forehead, "Your parentís accident is in this book?"

Tracy shook her head and pointed to the top of the book where it stated that these photos were taken in nineteen sixty-six. Brian turned away, coughing and then looked again. "These people havenít aged a day!" he bantered, "Youíre pulling my leg. You think Iím a sap! Whoís wasting whose time, here? I thought we had an understanding!"

Shocked, she stood up, "Iím telling you, something is going on! The same people are in both pictures more than thirty years apart, wearing the same clothes, same expressions and even standing in the same order. If you donít want to believe me, then forget it!" She slammed the book closed and prepared to leave by pushing her chair out behind her.

"Wait a second," he whispered loudly as he tugged at her arm to sit down. She did sit with a puff of air escaping her lips simultaneously. "The reason that I guess I thought that you were joking is because September first is the same day that my parents died ten years ago. It just seems too coincidental, you know?" She stared at him, speechlessly until he continued, "Think about it!" He set the book and clipping on the table and took both of her hands in his own. His eyes penetrated her thick lashes until her eyes opened fully, "This is a small town. What are the chances of me meeting a gorgeous girl thatís my age, in a town this small, thatís had her parents die in the same type of accident that my parents were in? And then, on the same day of the year?"

Tears filled her eyes as she quickly seized her napkin and drew it up under her eyes, dabbing one side and then the other. "The totally weird part about the whole thing is that I think Iíve seen these people before," he bent over the photographs again, studying them intensely. "Not trying to be rude or anything, but Iím not very hungry," he began to explain until she tucked the clippings into the book and nodded. "Maybe tomorrow?" he asked.

"Sure," she managed to politely smile in the awkward moment. He pushed his chair out, gathering some money together and placing it on the table before assisting her to stand. Micaela rushed over to the table with a concerned expression on her face. "No, no!" she begged them as she followed them across the floor to the door, "Un momento, por favor! Un momento!" Tracy explained to her that their reason for leaving wasnít the service, and that theyíd be back another night. Micaelaís face didnít resemble one of belief, but she returned to the table to gather up the glasses and the money that had been left behind.

The two climbed into the truck and started back down the street to their houses. Tracy reached over and switched the radio on. Classical hits came on and she pulled away, eyeing Brian, sardonically. "Come on," he smiled, "I have a tender side, too."

The remainder of the trip was basically pretty quiet until they reached her house and pulled up out front. "Before I get out to open your door, I have one question," sincerity was suffocating him and he could still feel the beads of moisture scattered across his forehead and across the back of his neck.

"Sure," she quietly soothed him, "What?"

"Would you be willing to go to my house with me? I have something that I think you should see."

After she agreed, they went to his grandmotherís house and entered the driveway. The house itself was dark except for his grandmotherís room which had a lamp on. The orange hues of the shade could be seen through the front window. As the back door opened, Brian peeked at his watch and observed that it was a little before nine oíclock. He backed up against the door to allow Tracy in, but she hesitated until he caught site of his grandmother standing to the side. "Wondered how long it would take you to start sneaking little girls in here at night, Brian," she teased him as she stood in her full-length house coat and rollers in her hair.

Brian never could figure out why she did her hair faithfully every night. She didnít have a job and never did anything at the Senior Citizensí Club. One night, heíd asked her and she said that it was so that sheíd be ready to meet her savior when her time had come. He wasnít sure if she was joking or serious when sheíd told him that, so he just smiled and patted her on the back.

"Getting a little loving tonight, are we?" she elbowed him in the ribs as Tracy remained outside the door. "No," Brian gestured Tracy into the house and closed the door behind her. "Grandma, this is Tracy. Weíve got some things to talk about in my room," he simplified, "Private things."

"Donít go trying to tell me itís homework, Ďcause Iím not that senile, yet!" she warned him with a shake of her finger. "As long as I donít hear any giggling from in there or moans of pleasure, I guess Iíll call it Ďgoodí." A peculiar expression washed over her face, "That didnít sound right, did it? Well, you know what I mean." With that, she high-tailed it to her bedroom and closed the door.

"Thatís your grandmother?" Tracy was amazed and it still hadnít totally absorbed into her yet. Brian nodded his head in reassurance, "Yes, thatís my fatherís mother. You know what they say, Ďthe boy will marry his motherí? Thatís pretty much how my mother is too. I miss her." The sincerity of his last sentence hung in the air until he realized that heíd said it aloud. "Well, címon. Iíll show you my room."

Tracy followed him down the hallway to the door at the end of the hall and watched as he turned the light on. It was, without a doubt, a boyís room. There were basketball posters of the Chicago Bulls covering the walls and his bedspread also displayed their logo. On the wall across from his bed was a dresser and next to it a bookshelf. There were model planes decorating the top two shelves and the lower three were books. Crossing the room, he pulled the chair out from beneath his desk for her. When she was seated, he pulled his yearbooks and scrapbooks out and tossed them onto the bed. There were about eleven, total. "Wow, memories up the ying-yang!" she exclaimed as she stood to spin the chair around beneath her, so that she was sitting on it reversed. "Sh!" Brian held his finger to his lips and furrowed his brows at her, sensing his grandmotherís presence. Searching the entrance for her, he finally gathered up the scrapbooks and leafing through them, one at a time, shaking them onto the bed. Photographs, cards, letters and other paper memorabilia fluttered onto the Bullís face of the quilt. The dampness was accumulating on his brow again as he finally picked up the last book and began dumping its contents onto the bed. Eventually, he sat on the edge of the bed, physically and emotionally drained as he began rummaging through the endless pieces of paraphernalia. "What are you looking for?" Tracy asked him as she found herself seated on his bed beside him. "If you tell me, I can help look."

Wiping the sweat that was just about to drip into his eye with his fingertips, his gaze lifted from the papers to her sweet countenance. "Iím looking for an article like the one that you showed me, but it was a black and white picture."

As if heíd just spoken the magic words, Tracy reached into the middle of the pile and removed the article; picture intact. There, standing by the plane was a woman holding two identical twinsí hands as they watched a man being removed from the wreckage. He was apparently still alive and one of the children was trying to touch him, but moved too slow, it seemed. There was the older woman with her knitting in her hand, smiling away as she managed to sew a few stitches, regardless of the turmoil surrounding her. This photo wasnít as large as the other, but off to the side, part of a body was in the picture wearing a striped shirt. Mesmerized, Tracy didnít know what to say as she sat, wide-eyed with her mouth hanging open. "Whereó," she cleared her throat before she could speak correctly, "Where was this?"

"That picture was taken in Coeur díAlene, approximately ten years ago." His eyes met hers and neither of them spoke for a second, but sat in silence. "You kids being good in there?" Brianís grandmother hollered from the hallway. "Yes," he whispered before repeating it loud enough for her to hear him.

"What are we gonna do?" Tracy asked him as she reached out a hand and touched him lightly on the arm. He felt a tiny pulse of electricity shoot through his body out the top of his head as a thought came to him. Standing from the bed, he hollered to his grandmother to come into his room. She couldnít have been far away as quickly as she got there, at her age. When she appeared, the tone of her voice inflected something more than what she was letting on, "Did you need something, Brian?" The question was directed to her grandson, yet her eyes managed to catch Tracyís. Tracy looked away, feeling uneasy.

"Remember before when I couldnít decide what I wanted for my graduation? I know what I want now," Brian said as he wiped his forehead again with the back of his arm. Bafflement overrode her earlier manifestation as she gave in and asked him, "And what would that be?"

"I want you to bring my mother out here," he said matter-of-factly as he allowed himself to flop back down next to his new friend, landing on a portion of the papers that still lay in chaos across his bed.

His grandmotherís eyes shifted from Tracy to Brian and back again. Her demeanor seemed to change from care-free to extremely concerned, "I canít do that, Brian."

"You canítóor you wonít?" he stood up to her. It wasnít very often at all that they locked horns because they were so compatible, but when they did, it was always a battle.

She took a deep breath as she sat on the chair that had been abandoned by Tracy earlier, "Even if I could, I wouldnít. But, they wonít release her. You know that."

"I really need to talk to her, though."

"Whatís all this about?" her gaze shifted back to Tracy again who sat stone cold and unmoving.

"I need to ask her if she was conscious after the crash. If she remembers anything."

At this, her eyes crinkled up and she began to laugh. "She was alert alright and how! In fact, thatís why she is where she is today. The shock of it sent her right over the edge. They say that had she been unconscious and not seen all of the bodies, sheíd probably be alright now."

"Really?" he tried to sound interested and he was, but not about that. What he wanted to know was what she had seen. If sheíd seen the twins, the boy, the mother and the grandmother.

"Yeah," she got up from the chair and ran her hands down the front of her nightshirt to remove the wrinkles. "She said that the people on the ground were trying to kill her," she laughed again, "Not save her, kill her."

"Why would she think that?" he prompted her as she neared the doorway.

"Iím not sure," she thought about it for a minute, rubbing her chin, "But any time that someone came near her, she began to scream just as loud as she could. There was no doubt that she was conscious. She commanded everyone to stay away from her, from what I heard. If it wasnít for a fast-acting doctor catching her off-guard, she probably would have done more damage to herself and died. I guess the reason I have a difficult time excepting it is because my son died and she wonít even acknowledge the fact."

The two sitting on the bed looked at each other, wondering what the other was thinking.

"Well," grandmother stretched in the doorway, "Itís about ten oíclock. Think you ought to take your little friend home?"

"Sure, grandma," the defeat was prevalent in his voice as he stood. Tracy was beginning to gather all of the paperwork together from his bed. "Never mind that," he told her, "I can clean it up when I get home. Besides, it needs to be organized better anyway."

Brian took Tracy to her house and neither one of them could think of anything to say as he walked her to her door. When theyíd arrived, she turned to him and gave him a hug, "I wish that there was something I could do to help. I was feeling sorry for myself because both of my parents are dead, but I think it would be worse to have one still alive that youíll never get to see again."

He nodded his head. "Do you think sheís crazy?" she interrogated him, but after getting a shrug for an answer, she said "I donít think so either." She disappeared into her house and closed the door. Brian stood there for the longest time, afraid to move. Not because he was fearful that something might get him, but Tracy was the only one that truly understood what he was going through. He could tell by the genuine burden that she was sharing with him. He waited, hoping that sheíd open the door and tell him that it was all a bad joke. A graduation joke that all of the kids decided to play on him. It had been ten years ago and everything seemed to be going fine for him until now. But what about his mother? Everyone thought that she was crazy, but he wasnít so sure. He needed to talk to her.

When he got back home, he found his grandmother sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of hot tea in front of her and another at the chair across the table. "Sit down, Brian," she demanded, but in a kindly tone. He did as he was told and picked up the tea, taking a sip before burrowing into the cup with his eyes to see his reflection and setting it down again. "Now son," she began again, "I know that you loved both of your parents and I donít know what trouble that girl has stirred up in you, but I can see part of your father coming out in you. I gotta tell you, itís not a part I enjoy." Brian offered no response, but took another sip of the tea. "Itís his stubborn side and you donít want that, believe me." He still made no reply and she sat ogling him until he set his cup down and spoke. "Grandma, I donít expect you to understand, but I found some things out tonight that I just canít ignore. I need more answers and fortunately, you gave me some of them already." Picking up the cup and inspecting it, he raised it to his lips, but didnít drink. Instead, he said, "Iím going to talk to my mother and if she canít come here, then Iíll go to Salem."

"That how itís gonna be?" she asked him cold-heartedly, "No conditions?"

"Well, Iíd like to go, grandma," he stood up to get himself more tea and checked her cup, picking it up as well. "Problem is, I donít have any money. Not that much anyway." Pouring the two cups carefully, he returned to the table and placed hers in front of her.

"You know that Iím against this, right?" she pleaded, "I just donít want to see you hurt. Itís been ten years and sheís a fruit, boy! She ainít your mother. You probably donít remember, but you had bad dreams for the longest time afterwards and theyíre finally gone. Going there may be opening Pandoraís Box."

"I know what you think, but Iíve gotta see it for myself, thatís all," he sloped over the table and took one of her pale, cold, wrinkly hands in both of his warm ones. Noticing the tears in her eyes he explained, "I just have to see for myself."

"Okay, fine!" she reflected in her obstinate way, "Your stubborn attitude is going to get you into a world of hurt one day, mister."

Getting up from the table, he leaned over to kiss her cheek and whispered in her ear, "Canít imagine where I got it from, can you?"

"Get outta here!" she mockingly yelled as she swished her hand in the air at him. "Go get some sleep. Youíre gonna need it if you intend on seeing much more of that young lady. Sheís got some fire in her, I can tell you!"

Brian placed his finger to his lips, "Sh, nobody knows about her but you."

She giggled before she stood and switched the light off. They both went to their rooms.

 

 

Brian awoke to the sound of someone pounding on his bedroom door the next morning. Poking his head out from beneath the sheets, he squinted his eyes at the sunrise as it peeped under the window shade. Turning over the face the wall, he pulled the sheets up over his head and grumbled. "Brian, wake up! You have company!" his grandmother hollered from the hallway outside his bedroom door. Lying perfectly still, he was hoping that heíd fall asleep again, but when it didnít happen, he rolled over to face the door. Removing the thin fabric from his face, he blinked several times before he recognized Tracy standing at the foot of his bed with his grandmother beside her. "Whatówhat are you doing?!" he shrieked as he gathered the spread at the top of the bed tighter under his chin. His brown curls were poking out of his head in every direction imagineable.

"Good morning!" the old woman sang as she stepped toward his bed, "Grandma still needs to get her grandson up, doesnít she?" Bending down over his bed, she grabbed a handful of sheet at the top and was getting ready to pull it down.

"Grandma, donít!" he warned her between gritted teeth.

"Rise and shine, puddiní pie!" she replied in song as she prepared to tug it down.

"Iím not dressed, okay?" When he said that, the whole room seemed to freeze. To him, it seemed like the world stopped rotating on its axis.

Tracy began to snicker as she covered her mouth and went into the front room, "Iíll just wait in here, then."

"What do you mean, youíre not wearing any clothes?" his grandmother scolded him, "Thatís how you get sick, boy!"

"No, Iím as healthy as they come!" he shouted as he sat up and flung the sheets to the side, catching his grandmother dumfounded as she attempted to turn away from seeing her grandsonís naked body. Underneath the covers, he was wearing a set of plaid boxers. "Why you little devil!" his grandmother tittered as she slapped him in the side of the head, "You Ďbout scared the daylights outta me!"

She was leaning out the doorway to call Tracy back when he reached behind the door and quickly grabbed a robe, pulling it snugly around him and tying it off just as she arrived.

"My, you get dressed quickly!" his grandmother teased, "You sure you didnít do anything the other night?"

Tracy didnít find that remark particularly humorous and it was apparent on her face as she stared silently at the floor. "No, we didnít," he remarked. No more was said about that subject as his grandmother led them to the kitchen.

"Your friend, Tracy, brought us some English Muffins for breakfast this morning. Thought theyíd be perfect with my special berry jam. What díya think?"

"I think that if the two of you are combining forces to overpower me, Iíve got quite the encounter to deal with." Both of the women laughed as they sat down to breakfast.

Grandma was over at the toaster pulling the muffins out when the doorbell rang. "Who in the world could that be at this early hour?" she asked herself aloud as she walked to the front door to answer it. "Oh, Iím such a mess! Brian would you get the door, dear?"

Brian excused himself from the table and passed his grandmother in the entryway. Opening the door, he saw the Communications Express man standing in front of the door with his truck parked at the curb. "Delivery for Brian ManningÖ" he announced. Brian scrunched up his eyes, partially due to the sunlight and in part to the early visitor. Taking the clipboard that was handed to him, he signed it and the delivery man reached into his pouch and pulled out a package, passing it to him. By the time he realized that heíd just received something, the man was already in his truck and waving as he drove away.

"What is it?" his grandmother goaded him from behind. "Iím not sureÖ some envelope," flustered he walked with the small parcel in his hand, back to the kitchen with his grandmother trailing behind him.

"Open it, open it!" she hastened him like a child on Christmas morning. He didnít ever think he could recall seeing his grandmother as anxious as she was then.

Sitting calmly down at the table and still making a meager attempt to wake up, he looked at the envelope and what it had addressed on it. All that was on the front was his address, but turning it over, the seal that was on it had the year stamped into a seal of graduation. "Who sent this?" he asked before opening it.

"Who cares?" his grandmother asked him rhetorically, "Just open it!"

Before he knew what had happened, both women were standing behind him as he opened the envelope and inside of it were two plane tickets to Salem, two cab fare tickets, and a confirmation of a hotelís stay for a night. "What? How?" he stammered, searching the two faces that were watching him. "Let me just say that it wasnít easy, but it helps to have some firm roots where you live!" grandma quipped as she rubbed his shoulders before giving him a pat on the back.

"Thanks, grandma! I love you!" he smiled as he stood up to give her a warm squeeze and a kiss.

"Now, if youíll excuse me, I have some work to do on this old face of mine!" she grumbled as she disappeared down the hall to the restroom.

While he sat quietly, Tracy sat down next to him and ran her hands through her hair. "You excited then?"

"If it wasnít for the fact that everyone seems to die on planes, I would be."

"Remember though, all of the endangered flights are on September first and thatís practically three months away."

Brian felt better about the whole thing now that he comprehended that. "Tell me something," he said to her as sensitively as possible, "If I am able to find out anything from her, what will I do with the knowledge?"

"Weíll deal with that as it comes. In the meantime, Iíll be waiting here for you to return," she smiled pleasantly at him and rumpled his messy hair with her hand.

"Kind of off to a running start then, arenít we?" he teased as he returned the favor.

"You never know what tomorrow might bring, right?"

He placed his hands on her shoulders, tempted to kiss her but restrained himself. "You know, youíre right and Iím gonna prove that!"

Tracy inquired, "When are the tickets for anyway?"

Picking them up from the table, he looked them over, but she took them from him before he had a chance to see. Her eyes widened, "Theyíre for tonight! How does your grandma get all of these favors? I donít know anyone that can get tickets that fast!"

"Iím not sure, but I think it might have something to do with her hair being curled and her make-up being on." When Tracy investigated him unbelievingly he shrugged and said, "Iím just kidding. Sheís known all of these people for years and doesnít ask for much."

"How can you say that this isnít much?" she wondered as she gave him a flash of insolence.

"I suppose I should have said Ďvery oftení, then."

Tracy strolled to her saucer and picked up the muffin that sat in the center. Opening her mouth, she took a large bite out of it before indifferently running her hand across her mouth. When she caught Brian observing her, she became quite red-faced and began to choke. Immediately, he ran over and helped her recuperate by lifting her arms above her head and jiggling them around until she began to pant.

"Now that Iím thoroughly humiliated, I think Iíll leave," she averted her eyes and walked past him. Just before she opened the front door, she rotated toward him, "When you get back, come on over and let me know how it went, okay?"

"Sure," he returned as he closed the door behind her and surrendered to the English Muffins with jam.

 

The airport was quite busy as his grandmother went through everything with him, making sure that he didnít forget anything. "Iím only going to be gone for one night, grandma," he tried to get her to give him a little breathing space. She was making him feel like a baby the way she was fussing over him.

"I know," giving him another hug, the third one since they got to the airport, she pulled back. "Youíre such a big boyóman now, that you remind me so much of your father."

"Thanks, Grandma. It really means a lot to me to know that you believe in me and will give me credit enough to find things out on my own."

"The reason I planned everything so soon was because I could tell that whatever it is bothering you is not going to go away." She reached up her hand and brushed the curls back from his forehead, "I know that you need some closure and youíre old enough now to get it for yourself."

The announcement was heard over the loud speaker that the plane headed to Boston was boarding now. Picking up his suitcase, Brian was pulled to his grandmotherís breast once more as she ruffled his hair. "Grandma, quit!" he murmured under his breath, "Youíre making a scene!"

"Iíll be here to pick you up tomorrow, alright? Watch for me!" she shouted over the crowd of people as he disappeared down the port. He waved and smiled, letting her know that heíd heard her.

The plane inside was hustle and bustle as all of the people were preparing for the flight that would take them to their destination. Two young brothers were seated in front of him with their mother sitting at the aisle. He could tell it was their mother by the way that she kept on them to stay under control and not drop peanuts on the floor. "People have to clean up before others can board when we leave," she stressed to them.

Sitting across the aisle from them was a couple of teenaged girls. They were dressed in shorts outfits that were different styles, but the same colors, and their hair was styled in the same, high ponytail on the back of their heads. Each of them had a headset on attached to a radio strapped to the blondeís waist. The only other difference was that the brunette was chewing gum quite loudly. Obviously she was unaware of it because of the stereo and as they lip-synced the words, the gum tumbled out of the brunetteís mouth before she had a chance to pop it back in.

Behind him was an elderly couple that kept talking about the baby that their daughter was going to have and how they wanted to spoil it rotten. They were going on and on about names for the baby as if it was their first grandchild. The new grandparents-to-be were so enchanted with the thought that they were eventually planning on what college it would be attending.

Directly across the aisle was a young couple that hadnít been together long because their hands seemed to be permanently joined and all they really managed to do was smile a lot and kiss. Neither one of them was wearing a ring, so it didnít appear as if they were married, but nowadays, who knew?

To his left was a business man that had his laptop open and was working away on it until the flight attendant told him that he would need to put it away for a while. He grunted, folded it up and stuck it on the vacant seat between them before folding his hands tightly and placing them in his lap.

Soon the plane was rumbling and rolling across the asphalt as Brian tried to look out the window at his grandmother, but she was too far away. Sitting on the aisle didnít help a lot either. It didnít take long for the plane to take off and for everything that Brian had eaten that day to fall into the pit of his stomach, being pulled by an invisible magnet into his bowels. After the flight attendant gave her speech about the safety precautions and procedures with the helpful demonstration of an additional flight attendant, everything was calm. The display almost seemed to Brian as a mini-skit as the two females moved together with the words that were being spoken. He almost laughed until he noticed that no one else on the plane was really watching them anyhow. The only captive eyes, that he could see, were the ones of the older boy in front of him. He was probably about twelve, Brian estimated that his hormones were probably kicking in and though he was watching the women, he sincerely doubted that anything that they were saying made sense to him.

Brian, exhausted now and barely able to believe that he was going to see his mother, needed to relax now so that his mother would be proud of him when she did see him. Ten years. Sheíd finally get to see her son after ten years and a highschool diploma later. He smiled, he didnít have his diploma yet, but he could send a copy of that to her later. Brian felt calm and cool as he smiled again. This was his first time flying and he wasnít frightened at all, even though his father had died this way. Planes fly all the time, people always said, just as they cross streets all the time. Some die and most donít.

Just as he was about to drift off to sleep, his eyes popped wide open. The boys in front of him were kicking and fighting. It didnít take long for their mother to return from the back of the plane and get them back under control. "I told you that other people have to ride after us, now look at this candy! We are not getting off of this plane until every piece is picked up! Dean, I thought that I could trust you to watch your younger brother for five minutes, jeez!"

Searching the back of her seat, Brian found the headphones that the attendant had instructed them on how to use. He plugged them into the armrest and turned on some easy-listening music. The song that had been playing the other night in the truck came on and he thought about Tracy. They hadnít even kissed and he was thinking about her! That was insane! he thought. Nonetheless, he allowed his mind to drift and wander wherever it felt it needed to.

The song was causing him to fall into a deep sleep, gently falling until a booming sound woke him up instantly. The plane was beginning to shake furiously and the people were quiet except for one or two that he heard whimpering as he removed his headset. He set it in his lap and began to feel very ill. His palms were sweating profusely and he thought that he might throw up. Immediately the flight attendants came over the PA system to announce that theyíd experienced some turbulence but that everything would be fine in a minute. Please remain calm. This caused a few of the people to sit back and seemingly relax for a moment, although most seemed uptight.

The bumpiness did subside for a second before growing even louder. One of the Barbie twins from across the aisle began to shriek loudly, "Oh my God, weíre falling!"

Soon, there were people removing their seatbelts so that they could get a better look out of the windows. Brian stayed put. He didnít dare move a muscle. It wasnít September first, it wasnít a plane crash! He was sure that stuff like this happened all the time. In the movies it seemed that there were always shaky moments in the planes, but they calmed down. Brian noticed that his hands were gripping the armrests very tightly and that one of the boys in front of him was crying, telling his mother that heíd wet his pants. It was Dean, the older boy. The business man next to him was sitting quietly with his eyes closed. Brian didnít know if he was praying or if he was simply accustomed to it.

The airline attendants appeared frazzled as one of them stood up and requested that they all put on their floating devices. The elderly man from behind him yelled above the din, "If weíre going to be fine, why do we need to do that?" The sweat was protruding on her forehead as she explained that they needed to do it as an extra precautionary step. She kept demanding that they all be quiet and put their head between their knees. Sobs could be heard along with the roaring of the engineÖ

Brian stared up into the sky, watching the birds when he noticed a crab quickly walking towards his face. The sand on his back felt excruciatingly hot, yet he couldnít move a muscle. A foot casually kicked the crab aside as he looked up to see a red-haired kid in a green-striped suit, "I think this oneís a goner!" he laughed. The old woman with her knitting needles commented on the matching outfits that sheíd found on these two young girls, but sheíd only be allowed to take one of the girls with her. "Eeny-meeny-miney-moÖ" she sang out in her croaky voice as she flopped her sewing from side to side.

Brian coughed water up from his lungs as the sun continued to beat down on his face and bare chest. "Today isnít September first," he managed to gurgle out before coughing again. The mother of the two children stepped forward and kindly told him, "There are exceptions to every ruleóyou are the exception."

The voices faded slowly into silenced solitude as Brian saw beyond all of the people, standing alone in the background a tall, prismatic, ivory tower. It had to be the same tower that heíd seen in the other photos, but they were blurry and this one was clear. Had Tracy seen the towers or was it just him? The question never did come out of his mouth to her. Blinking hard and squinting, he noticed that it almost appeared as an airport tower. He could see a figure in the window of the tower and he thought that it must be his father. It had to be his father, didnít it?





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