Friday, July 13, 2012

Chapter 31

“Dialing now.”

Richie glanced out at the restaurant as he unconsciously nodded at the operator’s reply.  He saw Annie give him a curious look as she stacked dirty dishes at a vacated table.  He was barely able to muster a small smile in return before turning his back to her.  Leaning against the wall beside the pay phone, Richie sighed softly.


“Ma’am, Bell Telephone.  I have a collect call from Richie.  Do you accept the charges?”

“Why Yes!  Oh, Thank you, Operator!”  Joan Sambora’s bright voice expressed her joy at the surprise communication.

“You’re connected.”  With a quiet click the operator exited the line.

Richie smiled at his mother’s excitement, even as a twinge of guilt hit him.  It had been awhile since he talked to his parents.  “Hi, Ma.”

“Oh, Richie!  It’s so nice to hear from you!  How are you, Honey?”

Richie chuckled quietly.  “I’m okay, Ma.  How are you and Dad doin’?”

“Well, we miss you, of course.  But we’re fine.”

“Still dancing?”

Joan laughed merrily.  “Yes, of course.  We haven’t had a competition in awhile, though.  Your father has been keeping very busy lately.  He’s started his bowling league again.”

“Bowling?”  Richie’s brow arched with surprise.  His father was an excellent bowler, and he had taught his son the skill at a young age.  For years Adam Sambora had bowled with friends in an organized league, but when he was promoted to a supervisory position at the plant he had been forced to drop out.  His rotating schedule made it too hard for him to keep his commitment to his teammates.

“Yes.  He’s having a lot of fun with it, as you can imagine.”  Joan’s happy giggle made Richie smile again.

“How’d he manage that?  Ain’t he working nights anymore?”

“Well…” Joan’s voice softened a bit, as if she was sharing a secret.  “He gave up the Foreman job.  He’s back on day shift now, as a line worker.”

Richie’s gut tightened.  He knew what that meant… his Dad had also taken a corresponding pay cut. Richie wondered if the demotion had been truly voluntary, or necessary for his father to hang on to his Union job.  Such a move wasn’t unusual, particularly in tough times when employers were laying off workers.

And here he was, calling to ask for money.

“Oh.  Well… at least he gets to see you more now, right?  You get to have kind of a normal life?”

“Yes, we do.  That’s a blessing.  Especially since we’re the only two in the house now.”  Joan’s comment carried a slightly poignant note.  “And where are you, Richie?  Are you in Florida now?”

“Naw.  I’m in Georgia.”  Richie cringed guiltily, realizing the last time he talked to his mother he was still in Mississippi.  That had been a couple weeks ago.

“Well, that’s nice.  Atlanta?”

“Nuh-uh.  I’m in Darien.  It’s a little town on the coast.  Right on the ocean.”

“Oh.  What are you doing there?  Playing at a club with a new band?”

Richie chuckled at his mother’s assumption.  Her always-optimistic assessment of her son’s talent warmed his heart, even if it was completely off-target.

“No, Ma.  I’m not with a band right now.  I stopped here because…”  He paused, realizing he was unwilling to confess the truth to his mother.  It was bad enough he had to ask his Old Man for help; he didn’t want to make her worry too.  “Um… I’m visiting a friend.  Staying at their place.”

“Well, that’s nice.”  Joan chuckled warmly.  “Speaking of your friends, I ran into Dean at the market.  He’s sacking groceries there now.  Such a nice young man.  He asked after you.”

“Oh?”  Richie winced silently.  He and Dean had gone to high school together, and played in a couple bands.  To hear his former guitar sidekick was now working as a grocery store bag boy was disheartening, to say the least.  “What’d you tell him?”

“That you were down South, of course.  Makin’ records and playing your guitar.”

Richie’s heart squeezed.  “Ma, I told you… I’m not exactly doing that right now.”

“Well, you were.  In Memphis.  I showed Dean the photograph you sent, of you and that other man at Sun Studios.”  Joan’s happy voice was full of pride.  “He thought it was really neat.”

“Great, Ma.”  Richie sighed softly and reached up to pull his fingers through his bangs.  Lovely.  Now when he rolled into town and saw his old buddies they would be expecting him to be some kind of big-shot musician.  His mother had probably bragged about his nonexistent solo record, too. 

“Well, tell him I say ‘hi’ next time you see him.”

“I will.  Are you staying in Georgia for awhile, Honey?”

“Umm… maybe.” Richie looked over his shoulder as he gave his vague answer.  He saw Annabelle had her back to him as she conversed with some patrons at a table near the front window.  The corner of his mouth curved upward as his gaze lingered on the back pockets of her denim skirt.

“So I suppose you won’t be home for your birthday, then?”  Joan’s disappointment in the falsely-upbeat question came through the telephone line, loud and clear.

Richie felt another stab of shame at his mother’s query.  “It’s only a few weeks away, Ma,” he replied, avoiding a direct answer.

“I know.”  Joan sighed.  “This will be the first year I don’t get to bake you a cake.  But I guess that’s what happens… Little boys grow up, become men, move away...”  Her lament was thick with motherly guilt.

Richie rolled his eyes, but smiled despite his remorse.  “Ma, I’ll always let you bake me a cake.”  He chuckled quietly.  “You make the best chocolate cake in the whole world.”

“Well, Honey… when you come home that’s the first thing I’m gonna do.”  Joan giggled softly.  “After I give you a big ol’ hug, that is.”

“Okay, Ma.”  Richie’s smile faded as he took a breath.  “So, I guess Dad’s not home, then?  If he’s workin’ days?”

“No, he’s at work.  Do you want me to give him a message?”

Richie shook his head, even though she couldn’t see him.  “Naw.  I’ll try to call back later.  What time will he be home?  Five?”

“No, tonight’s League Night.  He usually goes straight to the lanes from the factory.  He won’t be home until after nine.”

Richie frowned.  As much as he dreaded asking his father for money, he had hoped to at least have a plan when he returned to the garage.  Now he would definitely have to go back to Eddie empty-handed, without even the promise of a Western Union Moneygram on the way.  Assuming his father had the money to lend him, of course.

“Alright, Ma.  Maybe I’ll try to call him later tonight.  Depends what’s going on down here.”

“Are you playing tonight?”

Richie shook his head, a little smile again turning his lips.  God Bless his Mother, for always assuming he was a working musician.  “Naw.  I’m taking… uh…going to a carnival with my… friend.”

“Oh!  Well, that sounds like fun.  Just be careful and watch out for those Carnies.  They’ll steal your last dollar if you don’t keep an eye on your wallet.”

Joan’s warning made Richie snort out an ironic laugh.  As if he even had a dollar left to steal.  “I’ll be careful, Ma.  I always am.”

“I miss you, Richie-Boo.  It’s so nice to hear your voice.”  Joan’s lament was tinged with sadness.

Richie grimaced at the pet name as his heart squeezed.  “I miss you too, Ma.  Sorry I haven’t called in awhile.”

“Please call your father tonight.  He misses you too.  It’s just not the same around here without you.” 

Richie swallowed hard.  “Yeah, I will.  Tell Dad I miss him too.”  He cleared the lump from his throat.  “Listen, Ma.  I gotta go, okay?”

“Okay, Darling.  I love you.  Be careful.”

“Love you too, Ma.  I will.”

Richie dropped the receiver back into its cradle, then braced his arm across the phone-box.  He sighed heavily as he bowed his head, resting his forehead against his forearm.  His heart throbbed guiltily as he blinked away the mist from his brown eyes.

Well, so much for that.  He had just delayed the inevitable.

With another deep sigh Richie lifted his head and stepped back from the pay phone.  He swallowed hard before turning to face the roomful of people.  Forcing a little smile, Richie wandered over to the counter, where Annie was pouring sweet tea into ice-filled red plastic tumblers arranged on a round tray.

“Hey.  Your burgers are ready.”  Annie tipped her head toward the greasy brown paper bag resting on the ledge of the pick-up window.  “You don’t got time to eat here?”

Richie shook his head.  “Naw.  Eddie wanted me to bring ‘em back to the garage.  He’s calling in a parts order.”

“Oh.  Well, let me grab you a couple cold Cokes.”  Annie set down the pitcher and stepped to her left.  She leaned to reach down into the cooler.  Extracting two frosty bottles, she set them on the counter in front of Richie.  “You can pop ‘em open on the bottle opener he has back by the bench.”

Richie chuckled.  “Yeah.  Or on the one in his Coke machine.”

Annie gave Richie an inquisitive look, tipping her head.  “Everything okay?”

“Sure.  Why?”

“You just seem kinda quiet today, is all.”

Richie shrugged.  He could see in Annie’s concerned gaze that she was curious about his phone call.  “Naw, I’m okay.  I just called home to say Hi to my Ma.  She says I don’t call often enough.”

Annie’s smile gentled.  “She misses you, huh?”

“Yeah.  You know, I’ll always be her Little Boy.”  Richie grinned sheepishly.  “Guess I miss her too.  And my Dad.”

“Well, nothin’ wrong with that.  Family is important.”  Annie reached to give Richie’s arm a little squeeze.

“Yeah,” Richie repeated.  His eyes met Annie’s and he gave her an apologetic smile.  “I better get back.  Eddie’s waiting on me.”

“Okay.  Lemme get your burgers.”  Annie patted Richie’s arm before stepping away.  She moved over to retrieve the paper bag from the order window, then set it next to the Coca-Cola bottles on the counter.

“Here…” Richie fished in his front pocket, pulling out the crumpled wad of paper money.  "How much?"

Annie waved a hand.  “Don’t worry about it.”

“But Annie… Miss Tillie can’t keep feeding me… us… for free.”  Richie protested though he was silently relieved at her charity.  “She’s got a business to run.”

Annie smirked.  “It’s just a couple burgers and some fries, Richie.  Miss Tillie feeds Eddie all the time.  And she ain’t paid for gas or oil changes in years.  It all works out in the end.”  She gave him a little wink.

Richie chuckled at her revelation, then pushed the money back into his pocket.  “Well… okay.  Thanks.”

“You got it.”  Annie watched Richie loop his fingers around the necks of the Coke bottles, then pick up the burger bag with his other hand.  As he turned for the door, she made him pause.  “Hey, Richie?”

“Yeah?”  He looked back over his shoulder.  His heart melted at her sweet smile.

“I’m lookin’ forward to goin' to the carnival with you tonight.”

A genuine smile lit Richie’s face.  “Me too.”  He gave her a little nod, then moved to the door. 

Annie sighed and leaned down to pull another cold Coke from the cooler.  Popping the cap, she took a long drink as she gazed through the diner’s plate glass window, watching Richie cross the street and disappear into the bay of Eddie’s Texaco.


Richie pulled the Impala back up onto the concrete apron and guided it to a stop.  He smiled faintly as he put the big car in park and shut down the engine.

Eddie looked up at the slam of the heavy door, then backed out from under the hood of the pickup truck.  He wiped his hands as he stood upright and gave Richie a grin.

“So?  How’d she do?”

Richie grinned back at the big mechanic as he wandered across the cement and into the cool shadow of the garage bay.  “Great.  Runs better than it has in months.”

“Good.  Told ya adjustin’ the timin’ would help.  As long as we were in there, may as well tune stuff up.”

“Yeah.  She needed it.”  Richie nodded and looked down at his scuffed boots.  He shuffled his feet, realizing now was the time to reveal his financial problem to Eddie.  “Thanks, Eddie.  I don’t know what I woulda done if you hadn’t helped me out.”

A low chuckle rumbled from the big man.  “Happy to do it, Richie.  ‘Sides, in case you ain’t noticed, that’s what I do here… in this here service station and garage?”  He placed a heavy, drawling accent on the nature of his business.

Richie laughed quietly, looking up at Eddie.  “Yeah, I guess so.  But thanks for letting me help out.  I used to work on cars with my Dad… I kinda miss it.”

Eddie nodded understandingly.  “Somethin’ about a father and son bondin’ over an engine block, huh?”  He chuckled again, tipping his head toward the open hood behind him.  “Speakin’ of which… I gotta get this transmission finished up.  You wanna give me a hand?  Or are you plannin’ to hit the road?”

“Sure, I’ll help.  I’m not goin’ anywhere.”  Richie shrugged, giving Eddie a little nod.  “Well, except tonight.  Turns out Annie does want me to take her to that carnival.”

Eddie gave Richie a long look, an amused smile still on his ruddy face.  “She does, huh?  Ain’t that interferin’ with your travel plans?”

Richie shrugged again, feeling his cheeks color a bit under the man’s scrutiny.  “I’m not in any hurry to get on the road.  Jersey ain’t goin’ nowhere.”  Again he looked down, the admission of his poverty sticking in his throat.

“And neither is Annabelle,”  Eddie replied knowingly.  He chuckled again when Richie didn’t reply or meet his gaze.  “Alright, well… let’s get this trannie finished up.  Lance is comin’ to pick it up at five.”

“Okay.”  Richie nodded and stepped over to the pickup truck, picking up a wrench.  “What do you want me to do?”

For the next two hours Richie and Eddie worked side-by side, installing the new part and reassembling the engine.  As they worked Richie’s mind swirled with bittersweet memories of home and with gentle thoughts of his precious weekend with Annie.  By the time they closed the hood on the repaired truck, Richie’s heart squeezed with a dull ache of homesickness tempered by yearning for the woman waiting for him just across the street.

“Alright.  Go ahead and pull ‘er over to pump, fill ‘er up, then just park ‘er over there next to your Impala.”  As he gave Richie the directive Eddie gestured first from the pickup truck to the pump, then to an empty space outside the garage.  “I’m gonna go in the office and write up the ticket.”

“Okay.”  Richie nodded his dark head and moved to the truck’s driver-side door.  “Anything else?”

“Naw, just get somethin’ cold to drink and come on in the office.  You can sit in front of the fan a minute and cool down before we start sweepin’ up.”  Eddie wiped his greasy forearm across his face, which was now bright red and dripping with perspiration.  “Lordy, it got hot this afternoon.”

“Uh huh,” Richie agreed, swiping the back of his neck with a grimy hand.  He was drenched with sweat as well, thanks to the oppressive Southern humidity. 

Waiting for Eddie to move past him toward the doorway into the office, Richie climbed into the driver’s seat of the Chevy pickup truck.  The engine started with a loud rumble, then purred evenly as Richie put the truck into gear and carefully backed it out of the garage bay.

As instructed, Richie pulled the vehicle up to the gas pump in front of the station, then filled the tank with gas.  As he stood holding the nozzle Richie looked across the street at the glass-fronted diner.  A little smile curved his mouth when he saw Annie’s wave.  He raised his free hand in acknowledgement.

Once the gas tank was full Richie moved the truck to the designated spot.  He left the key in the ignition and wandered back into the garage bay.  Pausing to push a quarter into the Coke machine near the back door, Richie pulled a cold glass bottle from the rack.  He popped off the bottlecap and drank deeply, appreciating the chill that slid down his throat and into his belly.  He gave a little burp before turning toward the office door.

Richie hesitated, realizing the moment of truth had come.  He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath, then stepped forward.

He just hoped Eddie would understand.

A dozen short steps carried Richie from the bay and into Eddie’s office, where he found the big mechanic squinting down at a receipt pad.  Eddie's beefy hand was clenched around a ballpoint pen as he scribbled on the tablet, marking boxes and noting figures in his sloppy handwriting.  Richie paused in the doorway.

“All done,” he commented when Eddie looked up, over the tops of his reading glasses.  “I’ll go ahead and start cleaning up.”  Richie raised the half-empty bottle again to his lips, taking another swig of the cold soda.

“Naw, naw…” Eddie waved a hand toward the chair beside his desk, where Richie had sat just two days ago.  “Sit.  Cool down a minute.  I’m almost done with this.”  He returned his attention to the bill in front of him.  “Just gotta figure up the tax and print up the tape.”

The brush of breeze from the oscillating fan across Richie’s skin felt good.  He shrugged and silently followed Eddie’s order, stepping over to lower his lanky frame onto the worn chair.  Another gust of breeze caught him in the face, ruffling his sweaty bangs and whipping the long tendrils of dark hair that had escaped from his ponytail.

Richie watched silently as Eddie’s fingers stabbed at the keys of a bulky adding machine.  Each click and whir of the printer across the rolled paper with each dollar amount entry made him wince.  It was literally the sound of money. 

With a flourish Eddie hit the ‘total’ key and the adding machine clattered animatedly.  It spit out a long strip of paper, printed with the figures for the pickup truck’s repair.  Eddie ripped the paper from the roll and perused it carefully.  Satisfied it was correct, he tore the multi-copy page from his tablet, separated the yellow copy from the pink and the white, stacked the paper strip from the adding machine on top of the pile, and stuck the papers into the mouth of an ancient stapler.  With a loud thunk Eddie’s fist pounded the stapler, fastening the invoices together.     

“Awlright.  Done with that.”  Eddie reached to toss the bill in the battered metal box at the corner of his desk.  “Oh, and while I’m at it…” He ruffled through the papers already in the outbox.  With a little grunt he extracted a similar stapled invoice, that had been folded in half.   He handed it to Richie.  “… This one’s yours.”

Richie swallowed hard as he reached to accept the folded paper.  He saw his name scrawled across the outside, in messy penmanship that he was sure matched the figures he would see when he unfolded the bill.  His head bowed as he dropped his hands to his lap, gingerly holding the record of debt in his long fingers. 

He had to try twice to make his voice work, but finally Richie forced the raspy mumble.

“Umm… Eddie?   I need to tell you somethin’…”


  1. This chapter made me really sad for some reason! Poor Richie is so torn right now! There's gotta be a way for him to still be able to keep this relationship with Annie and maybe go home to visit for a little while, maybe she'd like to see Jersey for herself? Also I hate how he doubts his musical talents, I know it's tough but he's still young and the right situation just hasn't presented itself but we all know it does eventually come! Finally I hope this money situation works out, I still think he needs to talk to Annie and not hide it from her!

  2. So glad to see this story back again. Young Richie is just so precious and vulnerable. We know that he will ultimately come into his own but the road is paved with confusion and heartache. Hopefully Annie and Richie will be able to help each other become who they are meant to be.


Ramblings Welcome