II. Two In The Morning
Be her hero.
The buxom redhead said, “Your hands aren’t really full. You can still give my friend a ride home. Please, drive that poor, drunk girl home. Be her hero. A knight in a shining 1960’s vintage black Mercedes.”
Take note: smiling and batting of the eyelashes followed.
What the hell was Ray Carter thinking? He couldn’t stop contemplating why in the world he agreed to do it – be the poor, drunk girl’s hero, a knight in a shining 1960’s vintage black Mercedes.
Being a hero was the last thing he wanted to be. A knight? He’d rather call himself the page-boy in his cousin’s wedding, if there was ever one.
At least he felt good about the last part, the shining 1960’s vintage black Mercedes.
While on the road and already resigned to the reality that he was to be a hero nonetheless, he noticed the poor, drunk girl, to whom he gave his word to rescue, sleeping beside him. The damsel in distress, Lily “Stiff” McQueen, was rather plain and petite, a wee fragile thing. She had long black hair, a button nose, and she was unremarkable on the chest aspect. Not much.
In the dark confines of his car with random teasing of post lights through the car windows, Ray focused on her, seeing a different image coming to life. Lily McQueen was a dainty daisy out in the sunlight, swaying to the will of the wind.
One enigma though was that he found her mouth lovely. She had a full mouth, her lips rosebud with a shimmer of wetness teasing them.
In rarest of times, she could be seen pouting and still looked like a compelling story in a boring motion of events to Ray.
In rarest of times, all right? In rarest of times meant whenever he caught a glimpse of her in school – if ever and only when he cared to.
He shook his head. He didn’t notice he saw her that way until now.
He remembered Lily McQueen as The Bugle girl who used to sneak into shower rooms of the varsity teams. That happened in his freshman year in high school. He also recalled her as the different and “not really pretty” girl from the big city. That was what he heard, and he knew that people in Fram Hill thought she didn’t belong. She was still some kind of an alien to them.
Who belonged to this old town anyway?
Damn it. Ray and Lily used to be in the same “Pee Sick” class.
He shook his head again because he almost forgot that one detail. He could hear Frank in his mind telling him that the Stiff was forgettable and absolutely “not really pretty”.
Frank, one of his best friends, could be such a hater sometimes.
The 7th Street Rose Trail was not that far from Concord where he lived. He hadn’t been here in the neighborhood before but he did not have any difficulty in driving Lily McQueen home. The house with the pine trees untrimmed – that was a useful clue and an obvious one.
Her place was in fact the only house along 7th Street Rose Trail with the untrimmed pine trees. The Stiff didn’t have gardening skills for sure.
Ray tried to stir her awake. “Wake up, sleeping beauty.”
She didn’t budge so he stirred a little more. “McQueen… come on. Wake up.”
With a sleepy grumble, she finally woke up. “What?”
He only kept his hands on the steering wheel. “I think you’re home. Don’t worry about your car. Your best friend, Jean, said that you’d have it back by morning.”
“Uh, okay. That’s my house. You drove me home. Thanks.”
She got out of the car, lazily.
“Easy. You’re a little drunk, remember?”
He went out of the car and helped her upright. “Here, let me help you.”
He walked her to the front door and kept himself amused while she was looking for her key.
“Next time, don’t drink alcohol if you can’t stand it,” he suggested.
“How did you…?”
The front door opened.
Ray thought it was simple. “Alcohol. Smell. Wobbly and grumpy. Figures or I’m just a professional chauffeur of drunk people.”
There was no one inside the house.
He added, “You alone?”
She looked up at him. “Yeah but I have my grandmother around.” Then, she pointed to the house next door. “We’re neighbors if you are going to ask.”
His only reply was, “Cool. Convenient. Okay.”
“Yeah like super cool and super convenient. Okay. Anyway, thank you for taking me home. I am not really drunk though. Tipsy just tipsy.”
With his hands in his pockets, Ray only nodded and smiled, “If you say so. Not my business. A professional chauffeur here.”
A lazy reply, “Riiight.”
It was dark outside but Lily could see the freckles across the bridge of his aquiline nose. He was also tall like between 6’3 and 6’4. Oh boy! That was not good at all. He was a reminder to her that she no longer had chances of growing an inch or two. Why should she have to be only 5’3 tall? She was also sure he was familiar and, yes, popular in town and in her high school. She thought he was unbelievably pale for a guy. Technically, the word should be fair-skinned but….
Unbelievably pale. Unbelievably pale. Oh my god!
She knew him! How on Earth did she not recognize him? Pretty smooth, Lily.
No one in Fram Hill High or even in this whole town was as pale as him. Most of Fram Hill called him the French alien but she had her own name for him – Snow White.
Snow White in a badass leather jacket.
Lily wanted so much to facepalm herself right now.
He belonged to the Arrows Football Team, played as a wide receiver and just happened to be the mayor’s infamous grandson – Ray Carter.
Ray Carter was a troublemaker. No he wasn’t, she corrected herself despite the rumors about him. How she knew he was not a troublemaker was purely based on the lack of proof of such troublesome behavior on his part. So, no, he was not a troublemaker to her.
Whether the rumors were true or not, she was too tired to care. So, she bid goodnight to him and closed the door, harder than she would’ve wanted.
Ray did not know what he did wrong to deserve the door shoved to his face. The Stiff was truly not feeling well, he so thought. She was, you know, tipsy… just tipsy.
He wanted to talk to her more and ask something which he had no idea what it was – just an impulse to stay longer. He didn’t quite get the goodbye he expected in the end. He guessed it was the reason why she was called the Stiff.
Lily McQueen was awkward – the kind of awkward that bothered Ray. Still, she had a full mouth which could prevent him from keeping his distance. Oh god no! He shouldn’t think of her full mouth.
Staring at the door would not help the issue. He had to let it go.
Nothing else left for him to do and resigned to that very fact for the second time, he walked his way back to his car and Alas. The guy was dead in the backseat, not literally. He was just drunk and fucked up because Missy dumped him again.
Ray decided he would never understand why he got best friends who couldn’t hold their liquor. It was beyond him so he started the engine and drove.
It was already two in the morning. Long day it had been for him. He was supposed to be happy and enjoying Douglas’ party because his team won a game the morning before but he did not feel like it anymore. He lost his appetite.
On his way to the main road, he kept thinking about Lily if she was all right. An unnamed impulse kept resurfacing. It annoyed him and, here, he thought he was supposed to feel nothing after everything.
He turned towards Rickett Way and considered to dump Alas somewhere but ended up knocking on Dr. Childs’ front door. He hauled Alas’ ass out of his car and bid goodbye to the vet.
Thankfully, tonight, there was no Bruce, Alas’ pet dog.
Finally, Ray was alone in his car and lit up a cigarette. Life was so simple when he was all by himself. After driving two drunk people home, he deserved to be alone and do nothing about the annoying impulse he felt tonight.
She might not look like it but Ray was sure being friends with or just being close to Lily McQueen would be a complication.
Complications were not good, never; they were bad news. The old town of Fram Hill didn’t like bad news.
The Douglas Jones’ party was over. Boys and girls went home. They partied, got kissed – some might have gotten laid like Frank- and got drunk.
Lily was alone in her house at 7th Street Rose Trail. Jean was writing something in her diary. Frank was lucky tonight. Alas was sleeping like a baby with his protective dog beside him. Dan and Sophie were still lovers. And Ray… he was driving his 1960’s black Mercedes.
Two in the morning it was and hopefully no damage was done.
Granny Violet’s house was just next to Lily’s. The living arrangement was unconventional but it kept things so convenient for both of them.
When Christine McQueen, Lily’s mom, decided that her daughter was better off far from the big city after her husband died, she let her daughter live in their house at 7th Street Rose Trail.
She forgot to mention that granddaughter and grandmother would be neighbors.
Granny Violet insisted Lily should stay with her but Lily declined the offer and explained to her grandmother that she would stay at her parents’ house because she wanted to take care of it. Plus, she told her Granny Violet that she got two houses in town now.
Two was better than one.
At two in the morning, Lily wanted to see her grandmother, a need for comfort rose inside her, so she crossed the yard to the next house despite the feeling of drowsiness caused by her apparent intoxication. After checking all the doors were locked up and haphazardly tossing her duplicate key on the kitchen table, she went up the stairs to Granny Violet’s room. She wasn’t really expecting to find her grandmother still awake; she only wanted to know if she was sound asleep.
Inside, she saw her grandmother was still awake.
Lily lay next to her grandmother in the four-poster bed. “Granny? Still can’t sleep?”
Lying on her side and facing the window, Granny Violet replied, “There was nothing for me to do tonight. I knew you were going out so I tried to watch TV, DVDs and some late night shopping channel. I also baked cookies. I guessed I got bored after that so I went to bed and stared at the walls and this window. I am trying not to bitch about being an old woman.”
“You sound like a teenager. Stop sulking. Don’t you know it’s a nasty disease?” Lily snuggled closer to her. “I’m bored too and my head feels a little weird.”
“Have you made out with a boy tonight?”
Lily felt funny. Did she just hear that right? Yes, her grandmother was losing her mind.
“What?! You got to be kidding me, Granny. I did not make out with a boy tonight. Jean set me up with Milo though. She tried to find me a boyfriend.”
“Well, too bad. It would have been nice to kiss a boy.”
“Yeah. I guess it’s nice but, Granny, come on. Just go to sleep.”
Granny Violet turned to look at Lily. “It’s what teenagers do these days. You’re a teenager going to college several months from now. It should be in your bucket list.”
“Yes. I’ll be in college soon but it doesn’t mean I need to, you know, do all things teenagers do. I am different. I just don’t want my hormones to dictate my life. Bucket list or not.”
“Having a boyfriend is nice. I still remember back in the day when I first had a boyfriend. The first kiss. The first runaway. The first… sex. It was at the back of that old farm-house. When we get the chance to pass by the main road, I’ll show you where.”
Lily thought that her grandmother was giving her too much information. “Uh… yeah it’s nice.” And she added, “But I can’t comment any further. I’m having goosebumps.”
Granny Violet cupped Lily’s face. “You’re so funny.”
The younger woman frowned. She thought: Right, because I am super funny. Ha ha ha!
The older woman smiled. “I know you, dear girl. You are more than what you let on. Don’t mind what other people think and say about you. This town is old with old people and old habits. When you’re older and your habits as gray as your hair, you realize that people are just as good as the place they’re from. They take it with them wherever they go. Sometimes, I wonder how they can ever miss home. Fram Hill is an old town. So what if you are from the big city? You’re a new ray of sunshine here. A fresh face and freer spirit I’ve ever seen. People looking at you and giving you strange looks, it’s all nonsense. There are days that make me want to leave this place too but there’s just something about this old town that doesn’t want me to even think about packing my bags and run away. So take that frown off your face now.”
This was exactly what made Lily love her grandmother. She was just the perfect remedy to a headache – not what was usually given but the unpredictably effective one.
Lily smiled back, “I know. Kids at school call me the Stiff. I get what they mean. I’m awkward. But I’m over it. My freshman year was not actually a good start for me especially I got involved with Becca Teller. Remember her?”
The older woman replied, “Yes. I love that girl and her guts. She asked you to sneak into shower rooms. If I were only younger, she and I could be the best of friends.”
“You could be the best of friends for sure. Yeah, yeah. I did sneak into shower rooms. I did all that for The Bugle. That was always the excuse. One of the things I did just to fit in.”
Granddaughter and grandmother moved closer to each other, holding each other.
Lily started, “I feel better now.”
With a kiss to Lily’s forehead, Granny Violet replied, “Of course, you do. I’m your grandmother. I’ll always be here. It’s the power of my love.”
“You know I went to Douglas Jones’ party. In the party, I saw him.”
“Who is him again? Douglas Jones?”
Lily shook her head.
“Him? Like him? The little drummer boy?”
“Yes and the little drummer boy was perfect as always but he was with his girlfriend.”
“You know. You need to stop hopelessly dreaming about little drummer boy. It’s not romantic at all.”
“I know but I have always had a crush on him since ninth grade. You know that. He’s nice and he’s the campus cutest guy, a very charming young man even the parishioners call him. He plays for the football team too. He’s the quarterback. He excels in class. He’ll certainly get high SATs scores.”
“A boyfriend material?”
“Sadly yes, but he has a girlfriend. Remember?”
“I forget things. I don’t remember his girlfriend. She is so unremarkable to me.”
“I don’t know if you’re trying to make me feel good or what. You’re not making any sense. You just talked to her last time you went to church. She could also be your best friend.”
“Don’t matter. Just go to bed and sleep. I’ll try to close my eyes too. Maybe Jean has something for me tomorrow morning.”
Lily caught onto that last part. Jean has something for Granny Violet?
“Jean has something for you. What does that mean anyway?”
Granny Violet, with a wink, replied, “Ah just something I told her to do for you tonight.”
“And what was it?”
“Find you a boyfriend.”
How that did not surprise Lily was also not a surprise. “I had a feeling.”
“Lily, my dear girl. If you want the little drummer boy, then make him fall in love with you. Forget about the girlfriend. Do whatever it takes. Strike while the iron is hot. Grab the bull by its horns. That mentality. That attitude.”
Was her grandmother even serious? “You know that’s one way of putting the word ‘cheating’ in there, right?”
“Okay. Let’s say I will do everything it takes to make the little drummer boy fall in love with me. Him and me sans the girlfriend. What if I can’t make him fall in love with me in the end? The iron no longer hot and no bull to grab by its horns?”
Granny Violet gave Lily her sweetest smile. “You make the other boy fall in love with you that’s what.”
Lily loved her grandmother and her smile so much. “The one with the banjo, right?”
Two in the morning and smiles were the only true comfort, guiding and warming up the cold dark of old town Fram Hill.