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When I arrived at Logan Airport I strode confidently off the plane as if I did this every day. Hey folks, look at me, the seasoned traveler. I'm just off to the Caribbean for the summer, no biggie. I do this all the time.
But when I reached the arrival gate I slowed my cocky gait as I felt my bravado drain rapidly. Only a handful of people were waiting for the disembarking passengers, but out of instinct I scanned their faces expectantly. None of them were there to meet me. I knew this. I just, you know wondered what if. I felt self conscious then, so I walked quickly past the people greeting each other, and made my way over to the departure screen. Scanning the flights, I found the next one going to Miami. It wasn't hard to miss actually, it was the only one. Not scheduled to board for another two hours. With a sigh, I glanced around the terminal before settling for a line of chairs where I could sit and wait.
I sat down heavily, not feeling excited about the trip anymore. Even seeing the ticket in my hand didn't help. I actually had to remind myself that once in Miami I would be meeting up with Professor Kubelik, spending the summer sailing in the Caribbean, and, importantly, getting paid for the pleasure. That thought alone should have buoyed my spirits. An opportunity like this just falling into my lap? The gods must have smiled on me that day.
But as I sat there in the busy terminal all alone, my thoughts were not of the paradise that awaited me. The paper in my hand was more than just my ticket out of Capeside, an escape from all my problems and failures and regrets it meant being apart from Joey.
I grimaced inwardly. I didn't want to think about her yet, I promised myself I wouldn't. I had done everything possible to avoid doing so on the flight. I couldn't think about her, not so soon. It was too hard, the regrets and misgivings too much to bear. And the longing the way I still needed her and wanted her the way I still loved her. That was worse. I wouldn't think about her. This summer was supposed to be the antidote to my affliction.
* * *
An hour passed slowly. I regretted not bringing anything to read. Andie had tried to give me some novel about a room that had this view so I could read up about Florence, but I had politely refused. Regretting it now, I contemplated buying a magazine from a nearby newsstand, but I didn't get up from my seat.
Instead I spotted a sign for the airport bar at the other end of the terminal. I know what you're thinking, but I wasn't planning to get drunk, however enticing oblivion seemed right then. I just figured the melancholy atmosphere of such a lonely establishment would suit my perfectly. I rose tiredly and made my way towards it, wondering where my previous exuberance had gone.
"Don't even think about it, pal," said the bartender as soon as I took a seat in front of him.
"I just want a Coke," I had protested.
The bartender contemplated this statement for a moment, trying to read any deception in my face. Satisfied that I wasn't going to insult him by trying to use a fake ID, he poured me the drink. I handed him a crushed bill without a word, and he walked away to the till.
I drank in silence for a moment, glancing around me without much interest. There was only a handful of other people in there, most of them in conversation or reading newspapers. There was a basketball game playing on the television behind the bar, so I focused on that for a while. I didn't know who was playing, and quite frankly I didn't care. I just needed something to help pass the time before my flight left, and any distraction would do. Then I would be on my way, no turning back.
"Let me guess, she dumped you, right?" said the bartender as he wandered back towards me after having served another customer.
"Your girlfriend dumped you, that's why you look so miserable."
The man wiped down the bar, not looking at me. I smiled at his occupational psychology. Don't appear too interested to get the lonely guy at the bar to talk. I bet he'd heard a few confessions in his time.
"How could you tell?" I asked.
"I've worked in places like this for more than twenty years. It's the oldest story in the book."
I smiled again, this time to myself. "Actually, I dumped her."
"And now you're kicking yourself, am I right?"
"You could say that." And a helluva lot more.
"Second oldest story in the book," countered the bartender, pouring another Coke and handing it me. "But the outcome's still the same. You're here to drown your sorrows."
"I'm waiting for my flight."
I tried to give the bartender more money but it was refused.
"Just stick to the soft stuff, kid. She ain't worth it."
He walked away to the other end of the bar. I slumped slightly on the stool, the barkeeper's words echoing in my ears, taunting me with the absurdity of the statement. Nothing could be further from the truth.
My plan not to think about Joey wasn't working too well.
I sighed with relief as I checked my watch. The flight was late but at least I would finally be leaving. I stood up from the bar and nodded my thanks to the bartender. He and a couple of business men were watching the television screen intently, so he didn't see the gesture. The bartender was shaking his head.
"Not again Can you believe it?" he said loud enough so I could hear him.
The men murmured to each other, but none of them looked away from the screen. I decided I couldn't leave without thanking the man for the free soda, and the unwanted advice. As I stepped closer to them, my eyes were drawn to the television where a journalist was speaking direct to camera. The words 'Live on scene' were emblazoned across the bottom of the screen.
"What happened?" I asked.
"Another goddamn school yard shooting," replied the bartender, before one of the business men shushed him.
The reporter continued her commentary. "It is unknown at this stage if there are any fatal injuries, but paramedics currently on the scene are attending to multiple victims of the shooting. It is understood that the gunman opened fire just as the graduation ceremony was drawing to a close. The suspect was allegedly firing a shotgun, and at least six shots were heard, with some witnesses hearing as many as a dozen. Police will not confirm if the shooter is still alive, but it is believed he fled the scene immediately after this shocking event that has rocked the sleepy seaside town. The Capeside High shooting comes just months after "
You know those stories you read when the protagonist gets a shock and describes his blood running cold? I didn't think that was real. But it happened to me when I heard those words Those words that repeated over and over in my head while I tried to summon my voice.
"Where? Where did she say?" I stammered, clutching the jacket of one of the businessmen.
"Capeside, down on Cape Cod," said the bartender, frowning at me.
I shook my head in disbelief. This couldn't be real.
"Are you okay, kid?"
I heard what he said but it didn't sink in until later. I couldn't concentrate on anything but the television screen and the tightness in my chest that was making it difficult to breathe. The camera panned away from the reporter and focused on familiar school grounds that were crawling with police. In the distance, I saw the graduation stage cordoned off with yellow tape, and the same white seats I had sat on only this morning before the ceremony.
The journalist was suddenly on screen once more.
" We will have more news as it comes to hand. This is Rachel Connors, live in Capeside, Massachusetts."
I backed away slowly from the bar, feeling as if I was in a trance. As soon as I let myself think about it, to understand what had happened, I turned and ran out the door.
* * *
I headed straight for the line of pay phones near the entrance to the terminal. I snatched up a receiver and dug in my pocket with trembling hands, withdrawing several coins. I couldn't stop shaking. I found a quarter, inserted it and dialed the number for the B&B. I held my breath as the phone rang, becoming increasingly panicked as the ringing continued. There was no answer. I cut the call off, and tried Doug's house. Again I waited as the phone rang endlessly. When I finally heard a voice I almost cried out from desperate frustration when I realized it was my brother's answering machine. I slammed down the receiver and found another coin. I tried the Leery's and Jen's grandmother, but there was no answer at either. I hit the receiver against my head, trying desperately to remember my father's number at the police station. My mind went blank.
"Flight AA362 to Miami is now boarding at Gate 3. Would all passengers travelling on this flight please make their way to Gate 3."
I looked up, remembering my flight. I spied the nearest check-in counter and ran towards it, leaving the phone receiver swinging on its cord.
"Capeside I need to get back to Capeside," I yelled at the attendant before I'd even gotten all the way to her counter. She looked at me with alarm, then annoyance.
"When would you like to travel, sir?"
"Now, as soon as possible! I have to get back!"
She tapped at her keyboard for a few endless seconds while I shifted from one foot to the other. My face grew hot as I had to stop myself from screaming at her to hurry up. She finally looked up at me with a shake of her head.
"I'm sorry, sir, the next flight to Capeside doesn't leave until tomorrow morning. If you'd like "
I didn't stick around to hear the rest. I sprinted to the main doors of the terminal and into the blinding light of day. There was a cab rank and a number of buses lined up at the curb, but none of them were going to get me to Capeside. Instead I ran to the main road leading away from the airport. There would be trucks going south, maybe even a car would stop and pick me up. I would hitchhike as far as I could, and run the rest of the damn way if I had to.
I had to get back to Capeside. I had to know if she was all right. I couldn't think about anything else.
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