In a modest house on the north end of Wilson, Brandon Cooper swore violently as he juggled the hot calzone in his hands before eventually dropping the blasted thing on his plate. He waggled his hands in that particular “I’ve just melted my fingerprints off” manner and shifted to the sink to run his fingers over cold water. A backward glance revealed the calzone still lying limply on Brandon’s plate. Staring back at him.
Brandon growled and picked up the paper plate, hurling it and its contents into the wastebasket. The calzone still didn’t react, so he shut the lid on the garbage can and sulked back out into his living room, where his roommates were watching reruns on TV.
“A month since we graduated and all you do is sit at home and…” Brandon peered at the screen. “Watch Night Court?”
“Markie Post is hot,” Guy said.
“So hot,” Marcus said.
“But she has to be like fifty now,” Guy continued.
“I’d still hit it.”
“I’d build a time machine to hit it back then.”
“That’s why no one ever kills Hitler or changes history or anything.”
“Everyone who builds a time machine just goes back in time to seduce Markie Post.”
“And sees someone else who would have been hot in the 80′s, but hotter a few years earlier.”
“So he jumps back to the early 70′s to do, like, Farrah Fawcett.”
“And every time traveler just works further backward in time to find girls who were hot once.”
Both men nodded sagely.
“Are you two done?” Brandon asked.
“Of course, I’d take Roz, too.”
“I’d take her when you were done with her.”
“Shut up,” Brandon said. “Let’s go get lunch.”
“Okay, then. We going to Cliff’s?”
“Let’s go to Cliff’s. I want a malt.”
“A chocolate malt.”
“Shut up!” Brandon said. “We can go to Cliff’s, but we need to go pick up Roger.”
“I don’t like Roger,” Guy said.
“I don’t like Roger either,” Marcus added.
“He made fun of my big black boots.”
“And your long brown hair.”
“But I don’t have brown hair.”
“Yes you do, you both have brown hair,” Brandon said, rubbing his temples. “You both have brown hair and big noses. You look like you were separated at birth or something.”
“We do not, and do not have brown hair,” Guy said. “I have auburn hair. Marcus has brown hair.”
“No, I have auburn hair. Yours is more burnt sienna.”
Brandon threw a shoe at Marcus’s face.
Roger Gilmour was notorious for letting his cell phone battery die, so it was no surprise when a call to him went straight to voice mail. The three roommates thus locked the door and walked the four or so blocks north to Roger’s place, two blocks from Wilson General Hospital. They found him in the living room, watching the same episode of Night Court, lounging on the sofa. His jeans were clearly three or more days old, his long hair looked ratty and his t-shirt had two men shaking hands on the front. One of the men was inexplicably on fire.
“Come in here, dear boy,” he said as Brandon walked in. However, his expression soured a bit as the other two entered. “Big man, pig man / ha ha, charades you are,” he said, eyeing Marcus and Guy in turn. Brandon expressed their reason for coming before Marcus and Guy could respond, and the four piled into Roger’s Chrysler, Marcus and Guy stuffed in the back while Brandon reclined in the front. The old car rumbled a bit wearily, but eventually creaked into motion toward Cliff’s.
Cliff’s was what the kids today call a ‘fast casual’ restaurant, which meant that the beef was beef. It wasn’t steak, and it wasn’t anonymous meat. It sat reclined against a hillside on the western end of Wilson, between the Piggly Wiggly and Unstable Rick’s Car Bargain Emporium. Since Roger lived on the north end of town, the group had to work south to Main Street before turning west toward what was too small to be called the commercial district. The five minute or so car ride gave Brandon time to get even more annoyed.
“So. Where were you last night, Brandon?” Marcus asked.
“You’ve been off at Megan’s house, haven’t you?” Guy asked.
“Why’s it matter where I’ve been?” Brandon asked. “Why’s the spotlight always on me? What were you doing last night?”
“Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day/ fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way,” Roger said.
“Thinking,” Guy said.
“Thinking about girls,” Marcus said.
“Thinking about Megan.”
“Thinking about Megan twice.”
“Pay no mind to the rabble / pay no mind to the rabble,” Roger said, waving dismissively at the two.
“You two are lucky I don’t have any extra shoes up here.” Brandon said.
At this point, a Malibu cut off the trio, and their ire focused upon the driver, and the parentage of the driver, of the Chevy in question.
Cliff’s Eatery’s relationship with its employees was like that of a domestic abuser. It was raw, unhealthy, and illegal, and far too many people stayed there for no good reason. The food, on the other hand, was reasonably tasty and reasonably priced, so people kept coming back for more. Brandon ordered a Reuben and some soup. Marcus ordered a chili cheese dog with French fries and Guy a hot dog with chili cheese fries. Marcus and Guy decided that three was the minimum number needed for a corner booth and claimed the one adjacent to where Jeremy Anderson was sitting.
The Anderson family owed its status to Atticus Anderson, who was not only southern Wisconsin’s most successful door-to-door Bible salesman, but who had singlehandedly kicked the Germans out of Wilson during his 1916-1919 tenure as the city’s mayor. Though all of the fortune was gone and most of the Germans were back, the Andersons were still recognizable within Wilson as one of the city’s oldest families. And it was that recognition that went to Jeremy Anderson’s head. He approached our heroes’ booth, and Roger was the first to see him and greet him with the hostility he didn’t realize he deserved.
“I feel one of my turns coming on,” he said, glaring up at the military haircut.
“Oh?” Jeremy asked. “Do you feel cold as a razor blade/ tight as a tourniquet/ sharp as a funeral drum?”
Roger’s eyes went wide, and he began to shake violently.
“With your nerves in tatters / when the cockleshell shatters / and the hammers batter down the door, you’d better run!” Jeremy added, words growing in intensity until Roger shrieked and took his advice, leaping out of the booth weeping and barreling over an old man two booths down as he fled out the door of the restaurant. Marcus and Guy turned to him.
“How’d you do that?” Marcus asked.
“Yeah, how’d you do that?”
“Google it,” Jeremy replied.
“What?” Guy asked.
“You know, the website where you look for pictures of his mother,” Jeremy said, gesturing toward Marcus.
“Yeah, your mom is hot,” Guy said.
“Yeah, your-wait, what did you say?”
“I’d hit it,” Jeremy said.
“Like a piñata,” Guy said.
“Whose side are you on?!” Marcus wailed. His first two swipes at Guy were laughed off, but when he slammed his fists down on the table and stood up, the other scrambled out of his seat and ran off, followed by Marcus in close pursuit.
Brandon finally looked up from his soup. “You broke my roommates,” he said.
Jeremy leaned down on the table in front of Brandon.
“Oh, come on,” Brandon said. “First you scare away my friends, now you’re going to threaten me about something. Probably your sister.”
“I don’t like how much time you’ve been spending with my sister,” Jeremy said.
“Oh, no!” Brandon gasped, holding his hands up in a mock defensive posture, then falling back into his exasperated demeanor. “Are you really doing this? I mean, you’re actually wearing a letterman jacket. This couldn’t get more clichéd.”
When Jeremy grabbed at him, however, Brandon got upset. He pushed the other’s hands back and stood up. His back was to the foot-wide support for the booth, and Jeremy was clearly upset, though Brandon had no idea why.
“Yeah, I’ve been hanging out with your sister. Hanging out. It’s not like you have to defend her honor or anything.”
“What’re you saying, that she’s not worth defending?!” Jeremy asked. He began stomping toward Brandon.
“What? God, you’re dense. I’m saying that I’m not interested in her. At this point, though, I’m sure nothing I say can dissuade you. You’re already on the warpath-”
“Stay away from my sister!” Jeremy howled, and attacked.
The punch didn’t really surprise Brandon, and he ducked beneath it. With his right foot, he kicked off of the partition behind him, landing beside Jeremy on his left foot and bringing his right up to kick his adversary in the back of the knee. It worked, and Jeremy Anderson buckled and fell forward, his forehead hitting the partition and his body crumpling to the floor.
The entire dining room stared at Brandon, who stood there for a moment before looking up at the restaurant patrons. “Hey, you all saw him start it,” he said, before sprinting for the door.
Brandon had to reach Megan before news of this did. There was good news and bad news, however.
The good news was that Marcus and Guy were gone, which eased Brandon’s travel considerably.
The bad news was much more numerous. First, Roger had clearly flipped out rather thoroughly from whatever Jeremy had said to him, as he’d left and taken the car. Second, Brandon knew who most of the people in Cliff’s were, and he knew how many of them knew Megan Anderson.
Aaron and Patricia Anderson, her aunt and uncle, were in there, dining with Robert and Kathleen Hathaway, who ran the Wilson Humane Society – “Where our Furry Friends Find Fitting Families!” – which was only two blocks from Megan’s house.
At the table next to the Hathaways had been the Buchanans, Ben and Laura, who owned the castle that dominated the east end of town. Not only was Laura fast friends with Kathleen Hathaway after adopting almost a baker’s dozen cats, the Buchanans’ daughter Sara was close with Megan Anderson.
Ben Buchanan played golf with Megan’s father, Joseph Anderson, as well as Doctor M. Monroe, who had been eating a salad with his wife, Susan. He’d been the pediatrician for half the kids in Wilson, and played golf with Megan’s father. He could easily have her home number.
In short, if the people in the restaurant thought Brandon had just clocked Jeremy Anderson over his sister, she could know almost immediately. He had to hurry.
Brandon ran across the street and into the display lot of Unstable Rick’s Car Bargain Emporium. Unstable Rick Schlinger was the source of conveyance for most of the youth of Wilson, including Brandon before his car had been destroyed in the Great Town Square Pileup of ’08. Unstable Rick came out of the office, almost bolting himself, to meet Brandon.
Unstable Rick was an aging man that looked like Ed Asner with bad teeth and more jowls. He had the perfect mix of eccentricity and smarminess to come across well in low-budget television commercials advertising his wares. However, in person and without makeup, he was a bit intimidating as he came out, wobbly waddling in front of Brandon, who was forced to stop.
“Brandon Cooper! How’s your lovely mother Marsha?”
“F-fine,” Brandon replied, a bit bewildered. “I’d love to chat, but I’m in a hurry.”
“Oh, is that the case? I can get you something speedy. We’ve got a Trans Am in stock that’ll really-”
“No! Not shopping today, sir. Just, just passing through,” Brandon said, starting to pant. I run across the street and I’m already winded?! he thought to himself. He glanced back into the office to see Arthur Weber on the phone. Arthur looked out at Brandon and blinked, and Brandon realized that Andrew’s sister Erica Weber had been playing with her food and laughing far too loudly back in Cliff’s.
Oh, come on, why do you give a retarded girl a cell phone?!
Brandon bolted as Andrew started to walk outside, dodging past Unstable Rick and continuing past the row of minivans. Beyond Unstable Rick’s was the Wal-Mart and past that, the highway.
The Wal-Mart was open, but still under reconstruction after local teenager and PETA, Greenpeace, ACLU, and Everything Else activist Deirdre Skye tried to burn it down. Again. She was due to get out of therapy soon. Again. The construction meant the parking lot was full of equipment that Brandon had to navigate before even reaching the gauntlet of maniacs doing 20 in a parking lot. Narrowly avoiding an idiot driving a Neon too fast, he noticed that the idiot in question was Chris Nelson, and remembered that both Chris Nelson and Andrew Weber had been hitting on Megan Anderson at Liz Frank’s graduation party. Brandon had been there too, taking cell phone video of Travis Stiles arguing policy in circles around the mayor himself, Norman Haroldson, who was only there because he owed a favor to Liz Frank’s father Jeff. The video of the town mayor being thoroughly trounced by a high school sophomore had reached 30,000 hits on YouTube.
Chris was on his phone, and he blinked in surprise when he saw Brandon. Whether it was because of who Brandon was, or just because he’d nearly just committed vehicular manslaughter, Brandon wasn’t sure. He simply scampered past the car and moved on.
The highway split Wilson between its large residential district on one end and its commercial one on the other. The humane society and Megan’s house were one block off of the highway about a mile uphill. Brandon rounded the corner and began working his way up the hill. A car passed him, and he saw that it was Chris Nelson again, speeding quickly toward Megan’s house. He groaned, until he saw Chris turn right about two blocks early and drive away.
With a sigh of relief, Brandon continued up the road. He had to make a left just past the train tracks and then move two blocks farther south to reach Megan’s. He was scot free until he heard the horn, and saw the lights on the road ahead start flashing. He actually stopped on the sidewalk and threw his hands in the air.
“A train? There hasn’t been a train through Wilson in like twenty years! What fresh hell is this?”
The gates weren’t dropping across the road yet, but it was still a long way to the tracks themselves. There was no way for him to beat the rapidly approaching horns to the intersection, and while reaching Megan before she thought he was a rabid, violent person that wanted in her pants was important, it wasn’t worth becoming a fine pink goo beneath an oncoming train for. Brandon turned to walk away just in time to see the Chrysler pull up so fast that one wheel actually skittered up onto the terrace before stopping.
Brandon stood in awe as a freshly bathed and clean-clothed Roger Gilmour threw open the passenger side door and held out his hand to Brandon.
“Wait, but it’s only been like six minutes since you ran screaming out of Cliff’s. How’d you get home, shower, put on fresh clothes, and get back here in that time?” Brandon asked, a bit confused.
“If you ever lose your way, a butterfly will flap its wings / from a million miles away, a little miracle will come to take you home,” Roger said, grinning.
Brandon jumped into the car, and the beast groaned before speeding up and flying across the train tracks. A few moments later, the gates started to descend, and Brandon sighed in relief. As he put on his seat belt, something occurred to him.
“Wait a minute,” he said. “That line there. That was Jonathan Coulton, that was a lyric from ‘Mandelbrot Set.’”
Roger simply nodded.
“And the stuff at Cliff’s earlier, that was Pink Floyd.”
Roger remained silent.
“Dude, I’ve known you for like four years. Have you been speaking in song lyrics the whole time?“
Roger dropped Brandon off in front of Megan’s house, and at the sound of his panting as he climbed the stairs onto the porch, she came to the door and let him in.
To Brandon’s horror, she was on the phone.
He slumped on the couch in the living room, catching his breath and cursing his not being in shape while she talked.
“Mmhmm… uh huh… really? Okay, then, I’ll let him know. Mmhmm! Bye.” She sat down at the end of the couch he was on and looked down at him, and he swallowed hard.
“I’m assuming your sprinting here has something to do with what just happened at Cliff’s?”
Brandon groaned and facepalmed before sitting up. “Aww, who told?”
She arched an eyebrow. “You didn’t kill Jeremy when you knocked him into the booth. He didn’t even go out cold. He texted me the moment you left.”
Brandon sat up, a bit dumbfounded. “Oh.”
“Are you really that nervous about what he thinks of you?” Megan asked. “It’s not like we’re dating.”
“See, that’s what I tried to tell him, but he wasn’t listening,” Brandon said.
“I dunno. He’s just a bit overprotective, I guess, and I have been wanting to see more of you.”
Brandon blinked. “What, do you want us to be dating?”
“What? Hell no.”
“Oh, thank God,” Brandon said, relieved, slumping back into the couch.
“Glad that’s over with,” she said, hopping off of the armrest to sit beside him. “Well, what now?” she asked.
“I dunno,” Brandon said. “I think Night Court‘s on.”
Everybody Knows Everybody Here by Taylor Vincent is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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