Well, we’re three days into Camp NaNoWriMo, and I’m humming along pretty well! Though I’m not going full out for the 50,000 word goal, I’m on track to hit my personal 30,000 goal.
Now, if you aren’t following me on Twitter, then you haven’t seen any of my complaints. Writing short stories has never been my strong suit (I always want to expand them into something more). But basing them around Robert Johnson song titles makes it even harder. I mean, what do I write about for “Dead Shrimp Blues?!” Come on!
Despite all this, I have two of the short stories completed – “Malted Milk” and “Ramblin’ On My Mind.” “Ramblin'” is sort of a mini-sequel to On The Border, so I can’t post that one just yet. And while “Malted Milk” is based on my 2010 NaNoWriMo novel, Come Dancing, I really like this one. And no, you don’t have to have read that story to know what’s going on for this.
You’ll be able to see my love for music shining through this one. (And Come Dancing was based on the song of the same name by The Kinks.)
It had been a staple of their freedom, a statement in and of itself that they could walk into a soda shop and order a milkshake after school. That they could finally drive themselves there and not rely on their parents and all of their curfews, all of the timing and the mistakes that came with coordinating rides. They did not have to have one set destination. They were in charge of their fate, the only thing controlling them in the form of a scolding if they made it home too late.
They had not been back to visit in some time. The place held far too many memories for her and far too many broken hearts for him. They tried not to remember. But the phone call from her brother, the brokenness in his tone, had her coming home all too soon and dragging her husband with her. She did not want to miss this. As much as she wanted her past to leave her, returning to it was necessary. It was part of coping. Perhaps this would close the open loop on it all. Perhaps it would help her.
They traveled in silence, the car ride a test of their patience. He did not like talking of their past. She did not like bringing it up. How she made it with him out of all her boyfriends still surprised her. She had treated him less than any of the others, but common sense had caught up with her in the end before it was too late, before she made another fateful mistake. Like Sean, who had nearly driven them off a cliff. She shuddered at the fuzzy memory, pieces of it still vivid, still terrifying.
Her husband’s hand came to rest on her knee. He must have noticed her inadvertent shake. After all these years, he still surprised her. How long had it been since their last dance, since their last official “date” when they had resigned themselves to the fulfilling life of parenthood? How many times had she stayed up late, acting just like her mother, waiting for her daughters to return home from dates? They got away with much more than she ever did. It was something she could not (and did not want to) control. They were in charge of their own lives; they would make the same mistakes she did and learn from them. It was just part of being a teenager.
They made it to her brother’s house and rang the doorbell. He answered almost immediately. He did not fail to notice the strong grip the couple had on each other’s hands.
“You made good time,” he said.
“There’s not much traffic on a Monday at eleven in the morning, Riley,” she said as she forced a smile.
“Still, there wasn’t a huge need to rush. They aren’t doing anything until three today.” Riley ushered them inside and shook her husband’s free hand. “Good to see you again, Chris.”
“You, too, Ry,” Chris replied, smiling the genuine smile that always made her heart melt, no matter how long she had known him. “I couldn’t let Laura come on her own. That place means a lot to both of us anyway.”
Laura sat down at her brother’s kitchen table. She stared at the wooden top, contemplating. How quickly time seemed to pass the older she got. Didn’t summers last for years when she was younger and in her prime? It felt like they had just been there not two years ago, seeing some big-name concert when Chris went down on one knee in the middle of “Still the One.” It had fit too well, and she nearly lost it to hysterics.
They had only attended one concert after they were married – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It had been the last time they were there. Laura’s memory went back further. How many concerts had she attended with how many different boyfriends? High school had been the highlight of the concert venue’s life. It thrived on the bands that arrived and the teenagers that attended school down the street. Afternoons were spent in the back of the venue where a soda shop had been built. It was the most brilliant thing the owners had ever done. They made a fortune on the high school kids.
The malts meant more than childhood ambitions and dreams and a sense of no limits.
It was two thirty in the afternoon when they arrived at the site where their intertwined pasts would finally disappear, at least physically. They stood on a grassy embankment that had once been part of the parking lot of the venue. What remained of the concrete slab was broken with scattered overgrowth. The building itself had finally succumbed to the elements, but mostly the lack of updates and renovations. It had been standing since the turn of the twentieth century, and in all the time Laura had attended, nothing had changed. It had been nearly two decades since her last venture there and aside from the dilapidated look of its parts, it looked the same.
“It actually looks better than I thought it would,” Chris murmured in her ear. His arm came around her shoulders and pulled Laura to him so that her back rested on his chest. She nodded.
“It hasn’t been used in twelve years or so,” Riley explained. “I always thought this place could withstand a nuclear blast.”
“It probably still could,” Laura said.
Time after time, afternoons had been spent within the stone walls of the place. It had once been a palace in their young eyes. A place of refuge. A home away from home where there were no rules and certainly no parents telling them what to do. As they stood and looked upon the crumbling ruins of their old sanctuary, bulldozers and cranes approaching to tear it down as harmlessly as possible, Laura realized that thought was on all their minds. If it hadn’t been, they would have continued their pointless banter.
Ghosts of the past threatened to rise too quickly to the surface, ghosts she did not want to rediscover – and neither did Chris. He had lived them and learned from them almost as much as she had. He had learned to be patient with her while she had taken the longest journey trying to find her way back to him. Those ghosts still haunted her, because they were tied to musical memories she wanted to remember. Elvis Presley with Paul. Chuck Berry with Dylan. Learning about the blues with Sean. The Rolling Stones with Jeremy. The Guess Who with Brendan. Jethro Tull and Joe Cocker with Charles. Jim Croce with Max. The Allman Brothers Band with Sean again. Fleetwood Mac with Donald. Steely Dan and Eric Clapton with James. And those were just the highlights. Dozens – perhaps hundreds – more remained in her thoughts.
“What do you think they’ll put here?” Laura asked. “Ry? Have they said anything?”
Riley shrugged. “They’ve said anything from a parking lot, a supermarket, and a bowling alley. No one really knows,” he said.
“That’s disappointing,” Chris said.
They fell into their own quiet thoughts. Was anything else necessary? Did they have to speak some unspeakable truth about the place? Something to remember everything that had happened within its walls?
“I’ll miss the restaurant,” Riley said after some time. The engines of the bulldozers had started and tears had gathered in Laura’s eyes.
“That was almost better than all the concerts,” Chris agreed. He squeezed Laura’s hands, and she nodded.
“That place had the best milkshakes.” It was the only thing Laura could think to say that would not be harmful to Chris and Riley. Chris had been hurt by her lack of caring and amount of revolving door boyfriends; Riley had been hurt by her lack of caring and disregard for his love of music. She had often banned him from going to concerts she attended just so she would not feel as though she had to babysit him the entire night. It was unfair, selfish, and rude. Looking back, she did not believe her parents let her be so egocentric.
“Didn’t we always get one during every concert?” Chris asked.
“I know I did,” Riley said, chuckling.
“If we sat in the booths over on the side of the stage, we always got one,” Laura said.
“Those were the best chocolate milkshakes,” Chris said.
“I always got strawberry,” Laura reminded.
“Disgusting,” he murmured into her hair.
“You’re disgusting!” she shot back. They fell into a fit of laughter. It felt like it should have, here at the end of it all, as a wrecking ball came into the front entrance of the building. A deafening thud and avalanche of stones falling followed in its wake. Tears sprang to Laura’s eyes and fell down her cheeks despite her laughter, leaving tracks that followed down to her blouse along her neck and collarbones. Chris’s arms tightened around her and even Riley reached out his hands to put on both their shoulders.
The place had meant so much to her – to all of them. It was part of her childhood, and here it was, being destroyed before her very eyes. But what she would miss most was not the building or the concerts. It was those malted milkshakes, and everything they had symbolized.