Wil A. Emerson WHo, Where, How, When

Wil A. Emerson: Who, Where, How, When

Excerpt from
Summer Wayside

Book 4 of the Rosie MacIntosh Series


The Rosie MacIntosh story continues: SUMMER WAYSIDE

Down The Lane -- my favorite bike path       Summer Wayside follows Allen Connelly’s transformative journey from a nontraditional family to independence. Allen has just graduated from high school and his adoptive aunt and uncle expect him to attend the University of Pennsylvania where his uncle graduated. But since the loss of his parents, Allen has only dreamt of traveling Route 66 to spread his wings. Unbeknownst to his acquired family, he leaves without revealing his plans. Aunt Rose helped to curb Allen’s impulsive nature in the past but now, as the west beckons him onward, repressed anger issues rise to the surface. Allen attracts trouble with a vengeance and soon discovers his strength is not necessarily in his fists. Summer Wayside  takes the reader on a summer excursion of self-discovery, hope and second chances.

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Allen Connelly, Who are You?

       Two hours out of Philly and still on edge about the journey ahead. I’d studied the map and knew I had ten hours before I could call this an official break-away. Documented, on the record book. Independent. A certainty ran through me that I’d not confused the issues. I hadn’t made a blunder but, even so, reality wasn’t painless.

       If the road is easy, I’d said in my high school graduation speech, then you’re likely going down the wrong road. Clever, I thought at the time. Knowingly, not original. Even with a heavy dose of bravado at my back, a worm of doubt made my skin feel clammy. The historic road sign I sought, although a long way from vision, with its bold black lettering, would settle the anxiety. There’d be no turning back. An open highway.

       Route 66—the gateway to freedom.

       he note I left behind was nothing more than a short, sweet good bye. Not a thorough explanation. How could I explain it all a small piece of paper? It wasn’t a question about deserting those I had grown to love. It all had to do with a matter of dire need. The real me had to be uncovered, the past forgotten or I would be swallowed by the ugliness of it.

       The death of my parents had taken a toll. Left me bitter, hating my father and looking at the world from a dark light. I’d carried this loathing way too long. The pretense of adjustment, of healing, of caring, was a big fat façade that took every ounce of energy I had to project a sense of well-being. I couldn’t handle it any longer. If there were any chance for me to get well, I had to find out by myself what really lay underneath my skin. Otherwise the urge to strike out, destroy, kill might reach a boil and irrupt whenever, where ever the opportunity presented itself.

       Driving west, nearly four in the afternoon, a glimmering blue sky with bright tangerine streaks settling on the horizon made me feel like Hercules. I surveyed the landscape and conjured stories in my mind about other travelers. Who were the passengers? Where they were headed? Family, friends, lovers? The sun was hanging lower, though, and I had to squint to see the cars ahead. Luckily, not too many. A car approached the entrance lane and seemed to slow instead of accelerating to get on the highway. I guessed the driver was gaging my speed. Had to decide whether to let me pass or accelerate into the lane. It caused me to tip my wire framed sunglasses up for a better look. I waved the driver on. Then I did a double take. Murky green, a fifty-seven Chevy sedan, designer wings on the trunk as though the damn thing would fly. Dirty, mud on the fenders, a big crease in the driver’s side bumper. Like neglected grass begging for water. Green, the puke of a drunk. Green, the same color and model car my father had driven.

       My father. Michael Connelly. Ex-cop, ex-husband, ex-father. Ex-abuser.

       My foot pressed the accelerator. Ram the bastard.

       I gripped the steering wheel, took a deep breath and felt the warmth of the leather cover I’d applied the week before school ended. I eyed the hood of my blue mustang. Shined to a mirror finish. Spit-shine clean the way I liked it. I gazed in the rearview window. No cars in sight.

       A trickle of sweat eased down my cheek and I pressed the gas pedal harder. The tail lights of the green monster flashed. Too close?

       Another bead rolled down and caught on the edge of my lip. The sting of salt.

       I could only fool myself for so long. Tears ran freely. It hurt like hell to admit I wanted revenge.

       Concentrate, I yelled in the wind. Focus. Get a grip. I eased off the gas pedal and twisted the volume knob on the radio. Let it Be, Let it Be.

       The gas gauge had held steady until the third hour out of the city then seem to fall in fast increments. Less than a quarter, than all of a sudden on the empty line. Speedway Gas, two miles said the red and white sign. Hungry, too. I hadn’t eaten since graduation lunch and even then didn’t get my fill. The excitement of leaving had my stomach in a knot. Aunt Rose had asked if I didn’t like the restaurant she’d picked for the celebration. White tablecloths, wine glasses, two forks. How could I tell her it didn’t matter where we ate, what she’d chosen. My thoughts were all about the days ahead.

       Dust curled up as I eased off the road and turned into a crushed stone drive as the motor began to choke. The smell of gasoline hit hard when I rolled down the window, “Fill up, please,” I said.

       An attendant in dark coveralls with the Speedway logo on the chest pocket rubbed his hands on a thick, greasy blue cotton towel, “Regular?”

       “Sure. Any place near I can get a burger and a beer?”

       “Two miles, left.” He dropped his chin lower, looked at my face. “Got proof? Dolly’s an ass kicker about legal drinking. She don’t let anyone pull a fast one on her.” The guy stretched his back straight as though proud of the information on hand.

       “Dolly will sleep well tonight,” I replied with a grin.

       He scratched his head and streaks of oil glistened on his light brown hair.

       Wise guy,” he said. “Dolly ain’t no whore. You some kind of smart-alec?” He pulled the nozzle out of the tank and gas dripped down the side of my clean Mustang. “Nine bucks,” he said with a grimace.

       I handed him the waded bills I’d crunched in my hand, rolled up the window and hit the gas pedal. A little more dust wouldn’t alter his appearance.

       I pulled to a stop at the edge of the drive and took out my notebook to enter my first road expense. I didn’t have unlimited funds and planned to spend wisely or I wouldn’t meet my goals. California destination approximately twenty-five hundred miles. Price tag approximately one-hundred-fifty dollars. Then I had to consider food. I’d packed three apples and two cans of Coke. On apple gone, one empty can in the paper sack. If I spent five dollars a day on food, I’d have enough money for gas and ten days of eating. The five twenty-dollar bills I had hidden under the floor mat could not be touched unless a dire emergency evolved. So far, I’d never had a dire emergency in all my life that costed even a cent. Where luck had not necessarily been my friend with family situations, I did have the advantage of an aunt and uncle who saw to it that I had what I needed. Now it was my turn, my time, my place.

       With the accounting in order, I stared back at the gas station attendant who still had his eye on me. Old enough to drink, dumb ass. That’s what I meant, I said to the rearview mirror. But why waste words.

       Hello real world, and slapped the steering wheel. My first encounter with being away from home and only in Donegal, Pennsylvania. Not a virgin when it came to misspent anger but this time, it made me laugh out loud.

       Was this the kind of attitude I’d deal with the further west I roamed? Commencement honor boy. Baseball regional champion. Beyond the confines of the familiar Philly neighborhood, I had to accept the fact nobody knew who I was and they cared even less about my ego.

       Hungry pains had an unexpected calming effect on the bristle raised by the attendant who didn’t understand my sense of humor. Dolly? Why didn’t the off-handed comment fly over his oily head? What did he see about the world that I’d turned a blind eye to these last four years?

       Hungry and thirsty. A beer? Bold. It slipped out as if it were a routine habit. The straight and narrow had got me this far. Did the quest for freedom included drinking when I wanted? But then again, why not? I could afford to relax a little.

       The restaurant had little curb appeal but an empty stomach doesn’t discriminate. It was nothing more than a vintage building, Quonset hut style, small and long, with a rusty orange-red tin roof and weather-beaten painted siding but so chipped it appeared more gray than white. A hand crafted wooden banner of orange, blue and white letters hung over a double door where duct tape held together the left window pane. Dolly’s. Inside, another sign over the bar read ‘Delux Burger and Fries, $1.50’. I’d forgive Dolly her spelling if the hamburger tasted as good as the aroma of grease and onions. There were no illusions on the premises about health department accreditation or weekly white glove inspections. I wasn’t there to eat off the floor so cleanliness didn’t matter.

       “Onions, double cheese, mustard, no tomatoes,” I said to the skinny middle-age man with a wide forehead and sparse gray hair. I straddled the bar stool before I gazed around the long, narrow room.

       “Have any Schmidt’s?” I asked.

       Skinny leaned into the counter and laughed. “You got any ID?”

       I ran my hand through my hair and eyed the guy. “Double fries,” and then reached for my wallet and flipped it open to reveal my driver’s license. Time on my side.

       Skinny slid the cold, sweaty can down the bar and it stopped just at my left hand.

       The red and gold labeling reminded me of Gary, our family friend, who always brought a six-pack to Aunt Rose’s house when he came for dinner. Gary never offered me a beer so I had no idea what to expect. Ice cold, the first gulp went down easy. Thirsty, I took a second long pull and the bitterness caught me by surprise. But I wasn’t going to spit it out. Skinny had his eye on me. I gripped the can, brought it to my lips and guzzled again.

       As I waited for the burger, I surveyed the low lighted diner. The dim illumination helped cover up for lack of housekeeping. The décor needed attention, too. Wall paper with dogs in a field, edges coming apart. One wall painted yellow with grease streaks visible. Ten black plastic and gray metal barstools, with three women spilling over their seats, to my right. Four empty tables in the center, four booths along the back wall. The lone customer in a booth farthest from the front caught my attention.

       A barrel chested, bald guy had a newspaper spread out in front of him. Blue short sleeved shirt, denim jeans. Wasn’t he the driver who second guessed his highway entrance? Somewhere along the way, I’d passed him. The green sedan. The trigger car.

       I turned away in time to see my order placed on the counter. The bartender studied my face with his fingers on the edge of the plate.

       “This too big,” he said with a sly grin that revealed a missing tooth.

       “It’s a start.”

       Did I have something written on my forehead? Kid from out of town. Not old enough to be alone? A run away?

       The hamburger needed to be double fisted. The patty as thick as two regular burgers with bright yellow cheese running down the sides. Lettuce and several slices of grilled onions with a thick bun to hold it all together. I couldn’t cut through the layers in one bite but I wouldn’t dare use a fork and knife.

       “Mouthful,” said the woman who had just paid the bill for her and the other two stout, pink faced women. They chuckled as though some great joke had been shared between them.

       Sisters of Aunt Bee from Mayberry.

       I nodded and decided the surly gas station attendant was right. Decent burger. Not a place to bed anyone, let alone Dolly.

       “Have a nice evening, Ma’am,” I said with a grin.

       “Want some water with that?” chimed in the barkeep.

       “Another Schimdt’s”. Spoken without consideration.

       By the time I’d finished the last French fry, I’d returned the second empty Schimdt’s bottle back down the bar where it rested in front of the sink where Skinny stood washing glasses.

       A look of disdain crossed his face but I didn’t take it personal. I understood why a guy like him felt a need to show his talents. Why a guy like him didn’t like a young kid who drove a spic and span Mustang, had walked in like he owned the place and upstaged his bar trick.

       It wasn’t a bar trick, though, on any level. It took nothing more than a steady hand, eye coordination and practice. He knew that but still took my effort as disrespect. At least the grimace on his face suggested his revulsion.

     I’d learned what the flick of a wrist could do from playing baseball for the last six years. I’d paid attention to finger work and dragging distance. Taught by a real athlete, not a trickster. My uncle. Patrick MacIntosh, best ballplayer in Philadelphia, who now sat in Philly, in his bedroom for the better part of the day and didn’t know if he’d wet his pants or been left out in the rain.

       I put five dollars down on the counter and nodded to the barkeep. He eyed the money and nodded in turn. And for some unknown reason, I took a few steps toward the back booth area. A few more customers had come in, two not so old, construction looking guys. And that guy with the green sedan sat there, all contended, reading his newspaper, grimacing about the world.

       He glanced up, pushed his paper aside. Something about his dark eyebrows, long, shaggy. Something about the cold glint in his eyes. A ‘dare you’ look. A ‘don’t give a shit’ look.

       I covered the fifteen feet in a flash. Running to home base. No need to slide in. Fist out. No time for him to react. I cold-cocked him in the nose and blood spurted onto the table. And then I turned and ran out as if my pants were on fire.

       An hour later, I pulled into a rest area, leaned back in the sit and cried for a second time that day. Eighteen and a half year and crying like a kid. Snot running down my face. Choking back and losing control. Revenge—it scared the hell out of me.

       I hated my father for what he’d done to me and my mother. But why did I have to take it out on an innocent man in a dingy restaurant in Donegal, Pennsylvania?

The Rosie MacIntosh Series

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WIl Emerson and Taking Rosie's Arm


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Author photo courtesy of the Pioneer Group .
Excerpts © Copyright 2018, Wil A. Emerson. All Rights Reserved.

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