The Summer of '62; Episode 2

Taras Bulba

Tom slid aside a salt shaker he had been playing with. "I knew you were kidding"
"Sure ya did. Just keep thinking that way." Rich patted him on his arm. "It's a nice little world you live in." Rich turned to Will curiously, "Are you there with him?"
They were offended. I wondered if I went too far with them.
The waitress brought our orders. "There ya go boys."
Rich was uncomfortable eating in front of them. He ate in front of them at school, but nobody really pays attention to how anyone eats there. They ate slow and deliberate. Rich could not wait to get to the next bite.
"You got some mustard on your cheek," Tom pointed to an area on his cheek.
Rich wiped it off with his finger and licked it. Will dabbed his mouth with a napkin. Rich caught on and did the same the rest of the meal. They finished eating, paid, and walked toward the theater.
"Are you taking Algebra next year?" Will asked Rich as they walked along the downtown city street.
"Yeah," Rich said confidently.
"Do you think you can handle it?" Tom asked with a concerned wrinkled brow.
"Sure, why do you ask?" Rich said.
"I know you had a hard time in Math," Tom said as if concerned. "And if Math is harder than Algebra; you know what I mean."
Rich didn't know what to say. He felt as though being interrogated or interviewed for acceptance into a fraternity. "Why this sudden interest. If they grade on the curve I'll bring the curve down and that's good for everybody. You should pray I'm in your class. I may not be good at math, but I can apply it. Algebra is about finding the unknown. I just might find myself."
There was a mild titter from them.
Will gripped Rich by the shoulder. "If you need some help just let me know."
"Thanks." Rich said and supposed in their own way they were being charitable, but in another way he felt they were telling him his place too.
"You're not taking Latin are you?" Tom continued.
"French," Rich said.
"Everybody in college prep takes Latin," Tom said smugly.
"The Pope speaks Latin and Brigitte Bardot speaks French," Rich raised his eyebrows up and down. "I'll go with Bardot any day."
They chuckled.
"Seriously," Tom said. "If you want to go to college you must take Latin."
"Not if you go to college in France," Rich concluded jesting.
"As if you're going to college anywhere," Will said, "you just made it out of the eighth grade and you failed in the fifth grade." Will quieted quickly.
It leaked out. Although Rich knew he felt some shame for blurting it out, he was too conceited to apologize. Now Rich knew what they thought. No one said anything. Will's comment was cruel, but honest.
Rich began to wonder more and more why they invited him to go to the movie. Was he there for the witty quips and laughs only?
They watched the movie Taras Bulba with Yule Brenner and Tony Curtis. Rich found nothing humorous nor amusing, given his present state of mind.
After the movie Tom used the phone at the ticket booth to call his mom. After calling he handed the phone to Rich.
That’s okay.” Rich did not want to call a bar in their presence.
Aren’t you going to call your parents?” Tom extended the phone closer.
They know when to come,” Rich said. “They know when the movie is over.”
That’s incredible!” Will said. “My mom and Mr. Larsen don’t know where I’m at half the time.”
Rich smiled. “But at least they know where you are the other half. You know 'is the glass half empty or half full.'”
What?” Will wrinkled his nose.
You must pay more attention in boy’s guidance class,” Rich said.
Paying attention!” Tom squawked. “You were too busy cuttin’ farts.”
They laughed and that relieved some tension Rich was feeling.
The three huddled beneath the marquee of the Sigma theater shielding themselves from a drizzle. After fifteen minutes of teenage banter and a review of Taras Bulba, Tom’s mother pulled up in their black '62 Chrysler. Tom and Will jumped into the car.
Tom’s mother rolled down her window, “Can we take you home?”
No thanks, my mom and Mr. Larsen will be here any minute.”
As soon as they drove out of sight Rich raced to the ticket booth and asked for a phone book to look up the number of the Casa Lu Al. Rich dialed. The bar maid answered. Rich asked for Mrs. Larsen. In the background juke box music blared, big talk bellowed , laughter echoed, and the sound of beer bottles and glasses banged on the bar.
The movie is over can you pick me up?” Rich said.
As soon as your Mr. Larsen finishes his beer we’ll be on our way,” Mrs. Larsen said.
Don’t let him finish it while you come for me,” Rrich cautioned.
He said he wants to come back after we pick you up for a quick one,” Mrs. Larsen said.
Mr. Larsen 's never had a quick one. I just want to get home,” Rich said.
Me too, but you know your father,” Mrs. Larsen said.
Yeah, I know,” Rich said exasperated.
We’ll be there as soon as he drinks up.” Mrs Larsen said
They hung up.
A half an hour elapsed. Rich walked to the corner hoping to spot their car He turned and walked another half a block, then Rich thought, “If I was not at the theater they may drive by and miss me.” He jogged back to the theater.
The first call was at nine forty-five and it was now ten twenty. Rich thought, “Perhaps there was an accident or they just forgot, but how could that be?”
The streets were lonely and glassy from the reflection of the neon lights and drizzle on the pavement. The Sigma theater was next to an alley that looked like some haunting cave. Rich moved as far away from it as possible, but still under the protection of the marquee. Shadows of dark mysterious men coming out of a bar’s back door in the alley crept close to the walls of the buildings.
One man walked quickly toward the theater. Rich rushed to the curb praying that his mom and Mr. Larsen’s car might suddenly appear. The man looked strangely at Rich as he walked by.
Mom and Mr. Larsen please come. Dear God make them suddenly appear.” He mumbled quietly to himself over and over, but they did not come.
The theater closed. The lights were turned off inside and the marquee lights dimmed. After an hour from the first call Rich knocked on the door of the theater. The manager peered suspiciously through the window.
Can you let me use the phone?” Rich implored.
We’re closed,” he said as if annoyed.
I was at the show and I used the phone an hour ago and my parents haven’t come yet. Can I use the phone again please?” Rich said.
He reluctantly opened the door and led Rich to a phone on the concession stand.
Rich phoned again and asked for his mom or Mr. Larsen.
Where on earth are you?” Mr. Larsen screamed and cursed angrily.
I’m at the theater,” Rich glanced at the manager to see if he heard his Mr. Larsen.
That's bull!” Mr. Larsen bellowed. “We’ve been up and down the street a dozen times and no Rich. Now where are you?” He insisted as if Rich were lying.
At the Sigma.”
The phone clicked and twenty minutes later Mr. and Mrs. Larsen's car turned the corner and pulled to the curb. Mom was driving and Mr. Larsen was waving his arms in a rage. They were arguing with one another. Mr. Larsen was a big man with long arms and it looked as though he was taking up the entire front seat.

Rich slid into the back seat. The car was saturated with the stench of beer. Rich settled into the back seat and as Mrs Larsen craned her neck to pull into traffic and drove the car away. “Where were you guys? I was worried.”