That Story, or Ten Reasons Why Priestly Doesn't Like Chicago
1. The Little Old Lady | 2. The Weather | 3. The Computer Genius | 4. The Bars | 5. The Crazed Psycho | 6. The Women | 7. The Tripper | 8. The Lost Boy | 9. The Skateboard | 10. The Little Old Lady (Again) | 11. Epilogue
The next couple of days were – thank God! – uneventful. He worked, he slept and he was even talked into returning to the bar again, after Buzzer assured him that the owner had banned the three unruly army men that had left a wonderful, black-and-blue impression on the right side of his face. Or perhaps it was his mentally unstable saviour named Jack (or possibly John) that gave him that parting gift. Either way, Phil was clearly unimpressed the next time he saw him, reminding Boaz of his low tolerance for violent shenanigans. While Jake and Buzzer were ready to defend him, it was Delia who beat them to it, and in her bored, unimpressed manner informed Phil that Boaz just happened to be the unluckiest person alive – a sentiment he mentally agreed with.
Phil grumbled away the problem, and everyone settled into a friendly working routine. Things started looking up as the weekend approached and it was this calming lull that had Boaz thinking a trip to the mall wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
He rolled out of bed bright and early Saturday morning (eleven forty, which was early for a weekend, thank you very much), dressed and hopped a bus into town, intending to spend all his hard-earned money when he remembered that he still owed Ash. Okay, half of my hard-earned money... Less than half.
Regardless, after the welcome Chicago had given him, he felt he was owed a little happiness. And right now that happiness was buying things.
He arrived at the mall just before noon, and spent a good ten minutes just looking at the different types of shops before he decided that he was hungry. Following the unmistakeable smell of something being fried in butter, Boaz found himself in front of a kitschy cafe deciding he didn’t care what he had, as long it was fried and contained bacon. He approached the counter, intending to tell the girl on the other side just that when the smile fell off her face at the sight of him.
“Hi.” He smiled, trying to right whatever wrong he’d unknowingly made already.
Tina, as the nametag indicated, merely raised an eyebrow. Her blue eyes took in the fading shiner on his face and smirked.
Unable to fathom the moods of women, Boaz tried to lighten the suddenly subzero atmosphere by pretending not to notice. “How are you?”
“You mean after you didn’t call? Fine, I’m fine.” She was not fine. She was blonde and cute and severely pissed off.
Clearly he was missing something, and given the circumstances of the past few days, he had an idea. There was someone else in this town that looked like him, or close enough that people were willing to beat him up, threaten to kill him and reach across the counter and slap him, if Tina was any indication. He tried to tell her as much;
She cut him off. “Oh, you remembered my name? I’m shocked.”
“You’re wearing a nametag.” He pointed at her shirt.
She slapped her hand over the badge and blinked up at him, faux innocence. “Are you sure it says Tina? Not Grace?”
He wasn’t going to be able to salvage this, he realised. Best to cut your losses and walk away. Still, he felt he owed it to the girl to say something. “I’m sorry.”
Faced with the sincerity of his words, she paused. “You’re sorry.” It wasn’t a question, more of an echo.
He nodded. “For whatever I did, I’m sorry.”
At that, she did slap him. Right on the bruise. He swore.
The sound brought the cook out of the kitchen, and Boaz threw his hands up before any assumptions could be made. “I’m leaving. Okay? I’m leaving. You won’t ever see me again.”
Without waiting for a reply, he turned and walked away as fast as he could and still have it called ‘walking’.
He got as far as the escalators, one hand gingerly holding his face when he bumped into another tiny, blonde girl. Boaz flinched away automatically before realising that it wasn’t Tina, though there were definitely some similarities. The look on her face, for one.
He didn’t want to say it – he knew he shouldn’t – but curiosity got the better of him. “Grace?”
Yes, Boaz’s clever deduction had paid off. “Piece of advice?” Grace said, adjusting the strap on her handbag which only served to make Boaz edge back another millimetre or so. “The next time you go cruising for women – try and pick different malls. It makes it much less likely that they’ll know each other.”
Boaz didn’t really know how to reply to that, and in hindsight the very first thing to come to mind probably wasn’t the best course of action. “Thank you?” And when her eyes narrowed he added, “For the advice?”
And for all the good that millimetre did him, Boaz was still slapped. On his bruised face. Again.
It was shortly after that encounter – that is to say, immediately – that Boaz had decided he didn’t need to buy anything. In fact, what he needed was to leave, right now.
So he did. With his stomach rolling in hunger and unspent money in his pocket, Boaz hightailed it out of the mall and into the first diner he could find. He was never so grateful to be served by a man in his life.
He had nearly finished his grease-filled lunch when the door to the diner opened, revealing a familiar face. Boaz sent out a half wave and Tom, accompanied by an elder Latina, made their way over.
Standing alongside the table, Tom gestured to the woman beside him. “Boaz this is my mother, Marina. Mamá, this is Boaz. He works with me.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Boaz got the mother vibe straight away, from the glance at his unkempt hair, to the slight eyebrow twitch at his piercings. What he didn’t get was the glaring difference in skin tone. Tom was as white as rice. Boaz casually glanced over. Okay, Tom was as tan as... Well, he didn’t look Mexican, at the very least. I think that’s racist, his mind casually informed him, and Boaz amended it to be that he didn’t resemble his mother, at all. Except for maybe the eyes, which were the same dark, soulful brown as his mothers. And the hair, which was almost – but not quite – black. And maybe the cheekbones... How is this surprising, again? Shut up, he told his mind, it’s been one of those days.
While Boaz was keeping his socially impolite musings to himself, Marina and Tom settled themselves across from him.
“En la fábrica?” Marina spoke, and Tom answered as he passed her the menu.
“It’s actually a warehouse, but yeah.”
“Hmm.” She agreed, and turned her attention to the menu.
“Mother has already met Jake,” Tom informed Boaz, with a curve to his lips that suggested it was a memorable event. The eyeroll Marina gave at that comment only cemented the fact.
A waitress came by that moment, and took their orders, and afterwards Boaz found himself under the polite scrutiny of a mother.
“So Boaz,” Marina asked, in surprisingly perfect English. “Are you studying at college like Alejandro?”
Who the hell is Alejandro? Was the first thing that came to mind.
“I’m Alejandro.” Tom said, seemingly sensing his thoughts.
“Is Tom your middle name?” Boaz asked.
“No, it’s Roberto, after my father, Bert Masters.” Tom explained.
That only served to confuse Boaz even more. “Then where the hell did Tom come from?”
Tom shrugged. “It’s a nickname.”
Marina clucked disapprovingly, and Boaz felt as though he was missing something.
“But even Phil calls you Tom.”
“Once Jake gives you a nickname, you’re stuck with it.” Tom answered in that matter of fact way that suggested there was nothing you could do about it. Which made sense to Boaz, who had still yet to find out what Buzzer’s actual name was.
Suddenly Marina’s reaction to Jake, and this thread of conversation, made a lot more sense.
The conversation flowed freer after that, with Boaz almost putting his foot in it when he asked Marina if she was visiting for long. She lived here, apparently, with her husband (who was a lawyer). Tom jumped in and stemmed any awkward moments by telling Boaz that his mother had actually just returned from visiting her parents in Spain (not Mexico, another blunder averted), and had spent the past two months outdoors helping with their family’s vineyard.
“She got sunburned on the first day,” Tom smirked at his mother.
“You’d think, with our lineage, that my skin could withstand a little sun.” Marina huffed. “But after three years of working indoors and not seeing any natural light, apparently it takes the body a little getting used to.”
Tom then went on describing all the jokes he and his father had made upon her return, about not recognising her and how she had let down her Spanish ancestry by getting scorched after half an hour of sun. Marina had taken it all in stride, responding that her husband now sleeps on the couch, “Until the doghouse is finished, he’s been working on that for the past... I don’t know, seventeen weekends?” and how Tom now has to pay for his own college tuition.
“Which is why you see me hauling furniture three days a week,” Tom finished with a wink.
Boaz enjoyed the company, and any wistful comparisons made to his own family were quickly swept away by a conversation that demanded attention. They asked Boaz about his family, and after a little peppering of a life with a single parent, they seemed to pick up on the clue and changed topics from everything to the weather, Santa Cruz, Tom’s youthful adventures and even gridiron, of which Marina was an avid fan. The mother and son played off each other like professionals, trading remarks and exaggerating certain aspects of each others’ stories. Occasionally they would shift in an out of Spanish, but they always managed to keep it within understandable parameters for Boaz. They ended up staying at the diner for three hours, and Boaz had laughed more in one afternoon than he had the entire time he’d been in Chicago.
As four o’clock approached Tom bid his mother goodbye, and Boaz was one hundred percent sincere when he told Marina that it was a pleasure to meet her.
Marina smiled. “I’m just happy to know that Alejandro has some friends that aren’t...”
“Jake?” Tom supplied.
“That are closer to his age, sharing interests and ambitions.” Marina finished eloquently.
Tom nodded the way children do when their mothers are talking. “So, basically, not Jake.”
Marina swatted him on the shoulder, hugged both him and Boaz, and bid them goodbye.
“Your mom is awesome,” Boaz said, as the older woman slipped into a cab.
“Don’t eeeeever piss her off.” Tom replied, and he looked at Boaz with slightly widened eyes.
Recalling the vehemence Marina spoke with when the subject of gridiron came up, Boaz mentally agreed that it was sound advice indeed.
Tom mentioned that Jake was having a party that night and extended an invitation, citing that everyone from work was going to be there.
Boaz agreed – because, why not? – and he and Tom decided to pick up some pizza on the way over.
“What, no booze?” Boaz asked as they hopped off the bus in front of the closest pizzeria to Jake’s house.
“Buzzer is bringing the booze,” Tom informed him, “Delia has the music and Jake... Jake has a friend that is bringing the fun.”
“Fun?” Boaz echoed, and Tom pinched his thumb and forefinger near his mouth and mimed smoking. “Ah, that fun.”
When they arrived at Jake’s house, the sun was just starting to set and there was a black panel-van parked out the front. Jake opened the door with a grin almost wider than his face and ushered them in.
“Tom, Bo – welcome!”
Boaz didn’t know what he was expecting, but an apartment that looked extremely ordinary to the point of boring wasn’t it. Where was Jake’s flair splattered over the walls? Where was Jake’s attitude adorning the furniture in obscure and probably British ornaments? Where was—
“Is this even your place?” Boaz asked Jake, taking in the plain walls, nearly presented kitchen and lounge room furniture that was too nice and clean to be Jake’s. He expected to see Ash’s apartment when he walked in, not a display out of some catalogue.
Jake leaned over and spoke in a hushed tone. “Actually, na. ‘M just mindin’ it fer a coupla friends, so don’ break anyfin, yeah?” He then smiled a thumbs up and ducked over to talk to Delia, who was over by the stereo talking with a short kid a couple of years younger than Boaz.
“It is his place,” Tom said, “and don’t worry, I thought the same thing. But his personality more than makes up for it. Buzzer’s though, Buzzer’s is exactly what you’d imagine.”
Boaz couldn’t actually imagine Buzzer’s place – maybe a treehouse? – so he didn’t say anything. Instead he put the pizza down on the coffee table and made his way over to Delia.
“Hey,” He greeted, and looked from her to the stranger who gave him a quick once-over and smiled. “I’m Bo.”
“Andy Gallagher,” The kid replied, shaking his hand.
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