Time after Time
By J. L. Westerhoff
Two close friends, Parker and Jody, knew each other since kindergarten, spent countless hours hanging-out, sharing pizza and childish nonsense. Jody possessed the hard edges, looking at life as if life were her own personal playground. Rules never pertained to Jody but Parker didn’t really mind, he was quiet and shy, predictable. Jody even said laid-back. She once shared her secret dreams to Parker as if he were her personal diary. He learned a lot about girls from Jody, but then, as they grew into their early teens, feelings changed; they were no longer buddies and those unfamiliar, teenage feelings, separated them as if they were a sickness. Close friends didn’t do that sort of thing, so, as they grew apart, other interests and new friends came along. Soon, Parker’s thoughts of Jody drifted into the past.
Twelfth-grade. Parker fell in love with Kim. Her family had just moved into Springfield and they met on the first day she showed up at school, in early April, during social studies. Kim was insanely pretty and confident. They talked later that afternoon, after last bell he walked her home—she lived just two blocks from his house. By the time summer ended they had spent nearly every day together: hiking, boating and swimming. Then one very warm, quiet and peaceful evening in late August, while the locusts demanded their own pleasures, Parker and Kim made love in the back seat of his big old 1968 Buick. Clumsy as it was, it was tender and it was beautiful, and it was the first time for the both of them.
Time passed. Jody started dating Robert, a strange, very unpredictable sort of guy. Parker never liked Robert, nor did he particularly enjoy the stories that preceded him—the rumors, the accusations. He then heard Jody was unhappy, depressed, hiding marks on her face and arms. She made her bed, everyone said, let her lay in it. Once, Parker ran into her, alone, sitting quietly on a bench at the park. He told her how he felt about Robert, called him an ass. She walked away throwing back a few choice words. Parker learned a lot about girls from Jody.
Forever. Kim and Parker married in late fall. That’s what young lovers did in small towns: find a good job, get married, mow the lawn and have kids. He worked the three-to-eleven shift at the Jeep factory on Madison Highway and Kim waitressed evenings at Trancer’s Tavern over on Whitticure Road. They enjoyed their time together, had fun on weekends, argued some, made love more, and worked their asses off during the week. Kim wanted to pull enough money together for nursing school but plans change and four years later, in early August, they bought a three bedroom house on Colonial Road. Kim became pregnant and an empty bedroom was invaded by paint cans and a step ladder—cartoon wall stickers and colorful border designs were ordered. Parker was promoted to supervisor in one of the production departments so they decided Kim would give notice and work only weeknights, part-time, through the holidays, until the end of the year.
Life was good. Kim and Parker became the picture-perfect couple: young, married, middle-class with baby on the way; a mortgage, steady jobs, friends and family visits—Sunday dinners and weekend barbeques.
Friday night. November 10th. Kim left work at eleven o’clock, following her usual route. As she entered the intersection of Whitticure and Pine, a pick-up truck ran the stop sign on South Pine and plowed directly into the driver’s side of her car. Parker received the call at home—Kim was involved in a terrible car accident. They actually called it a terrible car accident. He called his mother on the way to emergency—she was to call Kim’s family. Kim never regained consciousness, their unborn baby could not be saved. At that very moment Kim and Parker’s family no longer existed. He hated the drunken bastard who survived. He hated the God that lied to him. And most of all he hated himself for not protecting Kim. A few hours later Parker stood outside the hospital’s main entrance freezing in the cold wind, staring up into the pale, darkened clouds, thinking there will never be another good morning again.
Falling Apart. Kim’s parents were distraught. They blamed Parker for the accident, for allowing their daughter to work in a bar—for allowing her to work late at night. They needed to blame someone. They haven’t spoken since the funeral. Parker’s parents tried their best to console him, but soon he refused to visit them at all and stayed alone in his empty house—staring at memories. Eventually he sold the house and moved across town, near the feed mill, where he rented a small one-bedroom apartment in a converted warehouse. Each morning he stared at Kim’s picture, and she stared back. They soon arrived at an agreement: he would honestly tell her his thoughts and she would smile her approval. He felt somewhat better, and by the end of the following summer, Parker came to terms with Kim’s death—though he would never understand why she was taken so young.
Saturday morning. Downtown. Parker would usually do his shopping for the week. People finally stopped saying they felt sorry for him and he no longer tried to avoid them. Shoop’s Market carried the tasteless packaged dinners, the canned spaghetti, the cheap bread and the 2% milk. The market also stocked strong coffee, beer, hot dogs and burger; eating alone in front of a TV has become a habit.
“You don’t look so healthy.” A familiar voice. Bending down to grab a six-pack of Coors, Parker looked up and saw Jody walking toward him.
“Hey,” he said returning the six-pack to the shelf.
They hugged like old lovers. They hadn’t seen each other since the funeral, when Jody looked totally different, ghostly and tired—as if life drained from her face—as if her soul left her body. But there, that early morning in the market aisle, she was full of life, her hair swayed, her eyes were bright, her face confident. She was the Jody he grew up with. And he was overwhelmed to see her. Yet he felt the need to ask the terminal question, so with a forced smile: “Where’s Robert?”
She smiled, sighing breathlessly: “Out of my life.” As she picked out a cheap bottle of white wine from the middle shelf, she told Parker that Shithead found someone else—someone much younger and sexier. “You know the kind,” she said. “Don’t miss him at all . . . I moved on, even moved back home. Pathetic isn’t it?”
Her news didn’t surprise Parker only that it took that long to dispose of Shithead. Jody moved in with her mother out on Franklin Road about four months earlier. She said her younger brother Jessie was killed last year in Afghanistan and not long after that her father dropped dead from a heart attack. They finished their shopping lists—his goods fit into a single plastic bag; hers filled two paper bags.
Ray’s Diner. As they crossed the street, a cool November breeze pushed in against them. It was the first anniversary of Kim’s death, Parker decided not to mention this unless it entered their conversation—not that he was ever superstitious—broken mirrors, black cats and all, but from that moment on he harbored a strange unfamiliar feeling that the day was either going to be a test of his emotional memories of Kim or an occurrence that must take place in order for him to move on with his life. This was the state of his mind as they sat in a booth along the front windows.
“You kind of look like shit,” Jody told Parker, as if he just completed a physical. “Why do you look like shit?” She smiled.
He shrugged his shoulders a bit, embarrassed but uncaring. Staring out the window he saw an old couple slowly passing by, holding tightly on to each other as if one of them might blow away. He smiled and carried the grin back inside to Jody.
“I clean up good,” he told her, ordering two coffees and a piece of apple pie.
“I’m sure you do,” she said. “I remember once . . . when was that? We were jumping into the creek, and it was a hot day, we were all muddy . . .” Jody paused as their coffee and pie arrived. “I got it,” she yelled, “we were like ten years-old and we slid down a bank at the feed mill after all that freaking rain. Cracked me up! You sure didn’t clean up good that day!”
“Did some crazy things,” Parker agreed, trying to remember those times so long ago.
“It’s nice to see you smile though,” Jody added, leaning forward, touching his hand as if she had a deep dark secret to tell. “I really missed that smile of yours.” She leaned back and cut into the piece of pie. “Really, how have you been holding up?”
Parker wanted to hang his head and cry out that he’s lonely, that he missed Kim and that it’s been a year since she died. He wanted to pull his heart out of his chest, push it up to her face and say: Here . . . look at this broken piece of me.
Instead he looked around the diner.
“It’s time after time,” he finally explained. “It was Kim’s favorite song.”
“Sorry,” she said, wiping a crumb from her lower lip with her little finger, reminding him of a child of five. “So . . . what do you do for a living?”
They veered from their emotional pasts, wading ever so gently to their current past—conversations more like: well I experienced that, now I want to experience this. Parker picked up the last piece of the pie crust, the one that no one ever really wants, and entertained thoughts of leaving with Jody, going back to his apartment and . . . Jody crumbled her napkin and threw it at his face. “How about a burger and a beer?”
His thoughts: Here was a very attractive young women, staring back at him—most likely having the very exact lonely feelings as he. Two ships lost at sea, searching for . . . no wait, Parker wasn’t thinking of that at all. “We could do The Roadhouse,” he said. “I haven’t eaten there for years.” He popped the dry crust into his mouth, then wished he’d hadn’t. A hesitation rested in his throat, but it soon passed, he was willing to take that next step, “Around seven?”
“Works for me.” Jody confirmed, quickly sliding out of the booth, gathering her bags saying, “I’ll meet you there, partner.” Parker’s eyes followed his old friend out the door.
Alone. Parker finished his coffee trying to remember when they called each other partner. Kids. They must have heard it on a Saturday morning cartoon show. He found it amazing how memories, good and bad, stick somewhere in your head while nightly dreams come and go, forgotten by morning. Memories lay hidden in the brain—in a tiny little box of sweet and sour thoughts. Parker continued to watch Jody glide across the street—the very sight of her took him back to the morning he watched his wife run for a train she nearly missed. Kim was leaving to visit her Aunt Margaret and Uncle Simon at their farm in upstate New York. Parker loved that farm, but was unable go along. It was the week after they realized they were going to have a baby and Kim was so excited to let everyone know.
The waitress stopped by to refill his cup, asking if he wanted anything else. She stood there with the pot in her hand looking down at him like a disgruntled fourth-grade teacher. He casually looked upward at her tired, uncaring, caked-on face and slowly shook his head. Again he stared out the window and watched as the unexpected morning quickly passed him by.
Confusion. When Parker returned to his apartment he felt mixed emotions running through him. Was it the will of God? Or just a coincidence? He cracked opened his first beer. No, it was fate, he decided, and what comes out of this, if anything, will depend on new feelings they might have for each other, not some cosmic being or little man hidden behind a big curtain. In the bathroom mirror he told himself how sharp and insightful he was. He was proud of his maturity, his regained passion, his resolve. Then he took a nap.
Later. Parker cleaned up good and drove to The Roadhouse, a friendly local bar and run of the mill restaurant along Route 1. This was where good times happen but are rarely remembered. He told himself the evening was a chance to get together with an old friend, nothing else—don’t get your expectations up, or your hopes up, or anything else up for that matter.
Nervous. The parking lot was full, the jukebox was playing Born to Run and Jody, dressed in a light flimsy top and tight blue jeans, sat seductively at the bar with beer in hand, talking to some of her old friends. Parker ordered a bottle of Coors and shared small talk with a few locals. He glanced at Jody from time to time. Finally. A table emptied and they were alone once again. Sting was singing I’ll be watching you, as he asked her about her plans.
“I don’t know . . . I’ll be twenty-four and I’m working at a car dealership and I have no dreams, and no ideas of what the fuck I’m going to do for the rest of my life.”
“Twenty-four ain’t that old,” he said, having no thought of what to say to make her feel any better. “You have a whole life ahead of you. Hell I have a boring job, live in a boring town, eat the same boring things, and go to the same boring places. And my father keeps bugging me to help him clean out his gutters.”
Jody took a swig of her beer. “We should run away to some tropical island . . . start all over again.”
We? “Sounds tempting,” Parker laughed.
There was a long pause in their conversation, as they looked around the crowded room, at the usual faces, sober for now, except for Johnny Blackburn. Mindy Robinson was rubbing the ass of some guy while he fed quarters into the jukebox, and Tommy Lee played air guitar to Born to be Wild.
“You guys always fit together,” Jody quickly said, reaching over, touching his hand.
Parker looked into those safe and caring eyes. She then leaned forward and looked directly into his sad eyes. “You and Kim were meant to be. You know, I was actually jealous when you guys started going together.” Loud voices radiated like white noise from those around them.
“By that time,” he reminded her, “you and me about had our fill with each other.”
“Bullshit!” she said loudly, letting go of his hand she leaned back into her chair. “You just wanted to get in my pants so bad.”
Parker finished up his beer. She did as well. “You know, we were like fifteen or sixteen, I don’t think I even knew what a cherry was at that time.”
“Who said I still had a cherry?”
“Shit!” he yelled. “I should’ve known.”
Jody laughed and grabbed his hand once more. Squeezing hard she told him, “I wouldn’t have given it to you anyhow.”
Then Parker laughed.
He ordered another round of beers. Jody walked toward the bathrooms, stopping first to talk to two girls she knew. Parker swore he saw Kim standing by the wooden divider, swiping her hair from her eyes, throwing her head back and laughing as she grabbed Jody’s left arm. Jody glanced back at him, threw a quick wave, mouthing “Sorry.” He lowered his head and peeled the wet label from his bottle of beer. A couple of weekends earlier, when he stopped over with his wash, he asked his mother if she thought it was okay to begin to think about dating after only one year. She told him she couldn’t answer that question. He asked her why. She stared at him, like he was a foreigner asking for directions, and then told him he needed to figure that one out for himself.
When Jody returned to the table Parker casually mentioned that after these beers he was ready to go home. “Maybe we can get together again next week?”
“It’s only nine o’clock,” she moaned like a teenager. “You don’t get out much do you?”
Two beers later. In the parking lot, alongside her car, Jody held Parker’s hand, feeling a desire to kiss her, he didn’t know if this was the end of a date, or the beginning of their first night together. He thanked her for being there, and whispered that it was a year ago that he lost Kim . . . and the baby.
Jody grabbed his jacket with both of her hands and pulled him very close. He smelled her light perfume, the beer on her breath and a faint scent of a wanting woman.
“I knew that partner,” she said, then jumped into her car.
A Note About the Author: Home-grown from the cornfields of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Westerhoff’s creative past includes poetry, fiction, non-fiction and song writing. The satisfaction of writing stories transforms to a place of Imagination mixing Laughter and History. Work has or will appear in Main Street Rag, fictionmagazines.com and 50Plus. Also, a non-fiction journal on the history of the Cocalico Valley, was published by a local Historical Society.