Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Killing Spring, Part 6 (along with revisions to Parts 1-5)

At this point, since I've made some additions and revisions to this work-in-progress, I felt it important that I repost the first five parts of this story along with part six, which is starting to take shape as a story in which the main character (and the reader) is unsure of what's real and what isn't. So, for those of you following this story, there have been some changes which may be of interest. For those of you checking it out for the first time, I hope you enjoy what's been written so far. And I'm still unsure how everything is going to turn out.

Spring Break. Time to kill again.

Not wanting to waste even one precious moment of his killing time, Gene woke up even earlier that Monday morning than he would have if he were getting up for school. Throwing off his sheets with a grin, he climbed into his robe, trying it closed as he made his way across the hall to the bathroom. He heard Dad downstairs, reminding Mom for the thousandth time to remember their plane tickets.

“They’re in my purse already.” she replied, sounding annoyed at his badgering. Gene practically saw her rolling her eyes.

“Just make sure, huh? I don’t wanna get all the way to the airport and find out we don’t have ‘em.”

“How ‘bout I just staple them to my forehead?”

Gene chuckled as he closed the bathroom door behind him. Dad was always such a worry wart. And for no good reason. They took their vacation at this time every year, venturing off to some part of the globe for a new adventure - New Zealand this year - and never once did Mom forget the plane tickets.

This year was different though, because for the first time, Gene wasn’t going. He’d have the entire house to himself, the entire week to do nothing but kill, so for once, he was thankful for Dad’s obsessiveness.

After cranking up the shower, he stared at his reflection in the mirror while waiting for the water to warm, liking what he saw. A friendly smile full of perfect white teeth, piercing blue eyes that have broken more than a few hearts at school, a thick mane of wavy blonde hair, and just enough freckles dotting his cheeks to charm relatives into giving them a good pinch during the holidays.

Certainly not the face of a killer, Gene thought, smirking confidently at himself. So much the better. He briefly wondered if that’s what the press would someday say about him if, God forbid, he was ever caught.

He laughed at the idea as he shrugged from his robe, letting it drop to the floor.

Like I’ll ever get caught.


“Come on, Gene,” Dad bellowed impatiently. “Plane leaves in three hours and if traffic’s bad, it could take at least an hour to get to the airport.”

“Comin’,” Gene chuckled while he stepped into his favorite pair of Nikes. Dad was probably checking his watch every thirty seconds, agonizing over each tick of the second hand. Even on vacation, the man just couldn’t relax.

Don’t worry, Dad, I’ll get you guys there. I want you out of the house as much as you do. I’ve got plans of my own.

Still, Gene decided to take a few precious seconds to make his bed. Even though Dad was in a hurry, there was nothing worse than an unmade bed, nothing worse than wadded sheets and...

He frowned, fists gripping his comforter as he stared at the yellow patch on his mattress cover.

Not again!

Throwing the comforter to the floor, he gritted his teeth, silently cursing his bladder while he yanked the stained cover off the mattress corners.

“Gene,” Dad yelled. “Let’s go!”

“In a second, Dad!” He tried his best not to sound impatient, which was difficult considering the crisis at-hand. A wet mattress cover would not do. It was a sign of weakness, that he wasn’t in control.

A true killer is always in control, no matter what.

Fighting the panic welling in his gut, Gene rolled up the soiled sheet and stuffed it underneath the bed, promising himself to throw it in the wash - with extra bleach - once he got back. Then he grabbed his school letterman’s jacket, clicked off the bedroom light and bolted downstairs, where Mom and Dad stood by the door next to their luggage.

Dad checked his watch and scowled before handing Gene the car keys.


Drops of another spring rain began to pelt the windshield as Gene eased Dad’s Lexus onto Interstate 205, which would take them all the way to Portland International Airport. Fortunately, considering they were driving at the tail end of morning rush hour, traffic was pretty light. He quickly moved to the left lane and whizzed past a semi-truck.

“Holy Mother-of-Pearl! Use your turn signal,” Dad barked from the front passenger seat. “How are other drivers gonna know what you’re doing unless you let them know?”

“Sorry, Dad,” Gene managed, still a little annoyed he had to waste time driving them to the airport. Precious seconds of killing time were ticking away.

“And turn your wipers on.”

“Okay,” Mom began from the back seat. “I left a list of phone numbers by the phone in the kitchen. Our cell number, the number of the hotel where we’re staying, Aunt Rebecca’s number and Delana Adams’ number. I also asked her to check on you from time to time to make sure everything’s okay.”

What? Jesus, Mom, I’m seventeen. I don’t need our next door neighbor checking up on me. I can take care of myself. Don’t you trust me?

Then again, would I trust me? Heh-heh.

Resisting the sudden urge to crank the wheel into the meridian and hoping the car jumped head-on into oncoming traffic, Gene gazed into the rearview mirror and offered the most charming grin he could muster. “Mom, I’ve been home alone before. Don’t worry.”

“Yes, but not for a whole week, and we’re going to be thousands of miles away. I just want to make sure all our bases are covered. I know this may sound corny, but you’ll always be my little boy, and I can’t stop worrying about you.”

Despite wanting to get his parents out of the way, seeing mom’s concerned face in the mirror warmed his heart. She was truly concerned about his welfare.

Right then he decided, no matter what, Mom would never be on his list of victims.

“Don’t forget to feed Stinky,” she continued. “Remember, one can per day, and she likes it heated up in the microwave for a few seconds.”

Stinky. What did Mom see in that stupid cat anyway? The dumb gray furball didn’t even like her that much, and didn’t like being around anybody in the house, with the ironic exception of Gene. For some reason, Stinky enjoyed being in Gene’s company, even though he brushed her away whenever she tried to jump in his lap, and tossed her out of his room whenever she sauntered in.

Stupid cat.

Then again, despite her flaws, like drinking a bit too much, Mom always saw the good in everyone and everything. I guess that applies to cats, too.

“And the tank," Dad added. I made a list for you on the kitchen counter, showing you when to feed the fish, and how much. The brine shrimp is in a labeled container in the freezer; the dry food is next to the tank. Make sure you measure the food before dumping it in. Overfeeding can kill them.”

Gene rolled his eyes. He’d fed them before and knew what to do. No big deal.

“You got that?”

“Yeah, yeah, Dad, don’t worry.”

“And no parties. I don’t wanna come home to find broken lamps and beer bottles everywhere.” He checked his watch yet again before angrily waving his hand at the quagmire of cars in the road ahead. “Go around these guys, but use your turn signal this time.”


In a rush to get back and commence with the killing, Gene was pulled over by a cop less than a mile away from home. He slapped the wheel in frustration, cursing himself for being so careless. He knew from experience that his victims were most active in the morning, which was now alarmingly slipping away. He checked his watch.

8:09 AM.

They’re getting away. I just know it.

Calm down, man! Today’s just the first day. You’ll get your chance.

Yeah, but I want to kill right now!

As he watched the police officer climb off his motorcycle and casually saunter toward the car, hand resting loosely on the holster of his gun, Gene fleetingly imagined jumping out and charging. Of course, that would likely have resulted in being shot full of holes before he even got within ten feet of the officer. Still, the urge to do that very thing was strong.

Instead, he rolled down his window as the officer approached, pasting on his most sincerely worried face.

“Trouble officer?” he innocently asked, knowing damn well he was doing 40 miles an hour in a 25 zone.

“In kind of a hurry, aren’t you?” the officer accused without emotion, placing a hand on the car door as he leaned down. He peered into the back seat, mirrored sunglasses rendering him expressionless. Gene resisted the urge to rip the glasses from the man’s face.

“This your car, son?”

Gene managed a chuckle, mainly because for once, he didn’t need to formulate some elaborate lie. “No sir. It’s my dad’s. I was driving him and my mom to the airport so they could catch their flight and-”

“License, registration and proof of insurance, please.” The officer removed a leather glove and shoved an open palm through the window. Gene wanted nothing more than to grab the cop’s hand and bite it.

Instead, he stared straight ahead, knuckles turning white as he squeezed the wheel.

Maybe killing time should start now. With this guy.

No, no, no! That’s stupid! What are you gonna kill him with, harsh words? Wait ‘till he’s in your arena.

“You okay, kid?” The cop sounded more suspicious than concerned as he leaned in closer, the stink morning coffee assaulting Gene’s nose. “You don’t look so good.”

Startled from his trance, Gene hurriedly released his grip on the wheel and dug for his wallet. “Yeah, fine. Why?”

“Well, you’re all sweaty, like you’ve got a fever...or something.”

Or something. I know what you’re thinking, but that caffeinated stench oozing from your cake hole is stronger than anything I’ve ever done. Heck, I don’t even know what beer tastes like.

Gene slid out his license and held it out to the cop. He caught his own nervous reflection in the cop’s sunglasses - indeed, he was sweating. Not good. A dead giveaway.

The officer snatched the license away, then lowered his glasses down his nose to take a better look. While the man was occupied, studying the license like he’d never seen one before, Gene automatically dropped the visor, catching Dad’s registration and proof of insurance as they fell out. Dad always was a stickler for details; the first thing he told his son when while teaching him to drive was to be prepared.

Always know where your papers are, he had insisted.

“You haven’t answered my question,” the cop said as he grabbed the papers from Gene’s hand. “Why are you all sweaty?”

This time, Gene didn’t hesitate, knowing any hesitation tended to make adults suspicious. “I’ve never been pulled over before, sir.” For emphasis, he added, “My parents are gonna kill me for this.”

For a split second, Gene thought he noted sympathy in the cop’s expression-


-but it disappeared as he resumed examining all the paperwork.


Agonizing seconds passed. The cop continued shuffling the license, car registration and proof of insurance before finally backing away from the driver’s side door.

“Get out of the car, please,” he finally said. “and stand by the trunk while I call this in.”

Panic swelled, threatening to make his heart explode.

All my plans, done in by a freaking traffic cop? Does he know I’m a killer, just by looking at my license? Is he smarter than I thought he was?

Resisting the urge to throw the car into drive and take off, Gene dutifully complied. After all, Dad’s car was a Lexus. Speedy, yes, but mostly built for luxury. No way could he outrun a cop and the legions of helicopters which would join in on the chase, just like those Wildest Police Videos he always watched on SpikeTV.

Those shows always ended badly for the ones being chased. Gene didn’t want to be one of them.


The cop actually made Gene walk in a straight line along the side of the road, along with a breath test.

Fine, Gene thought with relief realized this cop was only hoping to make a DUI or drug bust, not expose him as a killer. Test all you like. Wanna pee test, too? You’d probably get a better sample if I gave you my mattress pad.

At the time, Gene had to stifle a sinister giggle. Now as he pulled into his driveway, hit the garage door remote and carefully guided the car into the garage, he couldn’t contain himself any longer. Watching the door slowly lift up, spit sprayed from his lips and splattered the dashboard as a loud, hearty laugh exploded out of him.

He lost control again, but in a good way. This was a loss of control one feels when they knew they are in control.

Then his eye caught the traffic citation, lying face-up and accusingly on the passenger seat.

Great. A ticket. Dad’s gonna love this.

But Dad’s wrath over his son’s careless driving was a week away from coming. An eternity during which Gene had plenty of time to engage in more pressing matters. Yeah, the ticket would be a problem when Mom and Dad got home, but what mattered now was regaining control.

And, who knows, maybe the plane will splash down into the Pacific and I won’t need to worry about it.

That thought brought on another torrent of laughter. Fresh sweat broke all over his skin as he guided the Lexus into the garage, his hands literally trembling like a junkie’s as he killed the engine and climbed out. Not bothering to click the key-chain alarm - Dad would have screamed blue murder if he’d known that - Gene bolted through the door leading to the kitchen. Relief swam over him in soothing waves. The silence of the empty house embraced him, providing reassurance and comfort, and he began to breathe easy.

For a few short minutes, when the cop threatened his killing plans, Gene’s control had slipped away. But now it was back. The ticking of the grandfather clock in the nearby dining room did his heart a world of good, reminding him he was back in control.

There’s nothing standing in my way now. I can take my it right...and it will be wonderful.

Plopping the keys on the nearest counter, Gene shuffled from the kitchen into the dining room, then dropped to the hardwood floor. He eased his back against the wall, just underneath a painting Mom just had to have after seeing it in some downtown gallery a few years ago. Gene knew nothing about art, but assumed Mom and Dad probably paid more for the painting than it was really worth. He never really paid attention to it until now, when he craned his neck to notice the colorful garden in the painting was remarkably similar to the one in their back yard, which his parents toiled endlessly over during the summer months.

Gene briefly thought of Mom and Dad, probably sitting uncomfortably in their seats by now, waiting to take off. Dad was likely checking his watch every thirty seconds, while Mom counted down the minutes before she could order her first Bloody Mary from the flight attendant.

Exhausted, he exhaled slowly, concentrating on the soothing tick of the clock. That warm feeling of being back in control returned, relaxing his muscles. Gene shook out of his letterman jacket and set it on the floor next to him, totally exhausted. Too much had happened already today. Too many obstacles. Though he didn’t mean to, Gene dozed off.

Soon after, Stinky slinked into the dining room. Upon noticing her favorite human fast asleep, she crawled up and curled into his lap, purring contently.


“...Gene’s not answering his phone.” The concern in Donna’s voice didn’t register with her husband, who continued swearing to himself as he fumbled with the headphones in his hands. “Maybe I should phone Delana to make sure he got home okay.”

“He’s fine, Donna,” Larry replied, not looking up from his task. “Stop worrying. It ain’t like he’s Indiana Jones and everyone’s out to kill him. Probably stopped to visit that bubbleheaded girlfriend of his...Rhonda.”

“Rachel,” she corrected, hitting the redial button on her cell. “And that’s not nice.”

“She’s an idiot.” He pointed to his own head and crossed his eyes. “Scrambled eggs upstairs...and she wears so much make-up she probably has to remove it with a putty knife.”

“Well, your son obviously sees something in her that you don’t.”

“No, you’re son is thinking with another part of his body other than his head.”

Donna rolled her eyes before redialing yet again.

For the sixth or seventh time since they took off, Larry reached up and pressed the call button. Seconds later, a young flight attendant, obviously trying her best not to look impatient with his incessant demands, flashed a toothy white grin.

“Yes, sir?” Her smile may have said how can I be of service?, but her eyes said Jesus Christ, what’s wrong now?

Larry thrusted the headphones at her. “These things don’t work. How can I watch the in-flight movie if I can’t hear it?”

“Here sir...” Using a tone one might use when instructing a retarded child, the flight attendant took the dangling cord and plugged it into the jack built into Larry’s armrest.

“Still no answer,” Donna snapped the phone shut, slowly shaking with head as she stared out the window, beyond the plane’s starboard wing, at the blue Pacific Ocean below. “This isn’t like him. He always has his cell turned on.”

Preoccupied with maintaining his pride after displaying his technical ineptitude, Larry placed the phones over his ears and focused on the TV screen hanging from the ceiling a few isles up.

After polishing off another Bloody Mary, Donna gripped the flight attendant’s arm, eyes wide. “Stewardess-”

“-Flight attendant,” she corrected, again speaking like she was dealing with simple-minded idiots.

“Oh, yes...sorry.” Donna helplessly held out her cell. “My son won’t answer and I’m oh-so-worried about him. I know it’s an inconvenience, but could you ask the captain to turn the plane around and go back? I just want to go home and make sure he’s okay.”

“Your son?” The flight attendant flashed another brilliant smile. “You mean your son, the killer? Oh, don’t worry. He’s fine, but I can’t say the same for you or his father or your neighbors or his friends-”

She was suddenly cut off by a sudden ear-shattering explosion.

Donna whipped back to the window, watching in horror as the starboard wing erupted into flames. Screams of passengers filled the cabin; the plane dipped right before beginning its plunge downward.

Next to her, Larry continued tweeking with his headphones, repeated muttering, "Holy Mother-of-Pearl."

The flight attendant fell backwards tumbled up the aisle. “He’s gonna kill you! Gonna kill you all!”

In a panic, Donna flipped her cell back open and hit redial. Tears filled her eyes as the phone rang and rang and rang.

“Why doesn’t he answer?” she screamed, just before the plane disintegrated as it hit the ocean surface...


Startled awake by the Iron Maiden ringtone of his cell, both Gene and Stinky shot to their feet. Stinky scampered into the kitchen; Gene blinked the blur from his eyes as he fished the phone from his pocket and flipped it open...

“Mom! Put down the glass, leave Dad and get off that plane!”

“Gene?” The confused voice wasn’t Mom, though it sounded distinctly familiar. “What the heck are you talking about?”

As the sleepy fogged cleared, he realized...


Pulling the phone away from his ear, his worst suspicions were confirmed. There was her cell number and picture on the tiny screen, her face smiling seductively. Awesome picture, even if she did snatch his phone away to take it herself.

The grandfather clock clanged, the echoes of its chime bouncing off the floor and walls.


The clock chimed a second time.

So much time wasted!

Still, there might be some stragglers. It was pretty cold and wet for a spring morning. “Gene? You there? What’s going on?”

The clock again...bong!

He took a second to shake the cobwebs of sleep from his head. “Nothing. Sorry, bubblehead.”

Rachel’s voice caught in her throat. “Bubblehead? What’s that supposed to mean?”


Now fully awake, Gene was sharp and quick. While silently cursing Dad, he chimed, “Bubbles are shiny, bright and you.”

And if you swallow this bull, you are a bubble head, just like Dad said.

“Well, that’s sweet, I guess. Though coming up with nicknames isn’t exactly your specialty.”

Yep. Bubblehead. God, I hate it when Dad’s right.

Bong! Precious seconds...ticking away.

“Hey, babe. Parents gone yet?” Rachel’s voice was coy and teasing, which normally drove him crazy, as it must have with her previous boyfriends. That included Clay Walker, his ex-best friend and captain of the football team. They quit being friends roughly around the time Rachel decided to, in Gene’s humble opinion, trade-up.


For once, he was at a loss for words. Pacing the dining room, he slapped his forehead at his own stupidity, forgetting he fleetingly mentioned Mom and Dad would be out of town. He should have known Rachel would be all over that.

Bong! Which each chime of the clock, control began to ebb away again.

“Um...yeah,” he croaked, then mentally kicked himself for not thinking to simply lie.

“Cool,” she cooed. “Hey, look, I know it’s early, but I told Taylor and Monica your house was free this week, and wouldn’t it be cool if-”

Aw, crap, here it comes. Why didn’t I see this coming?

“-a bunch of us got together and partied at your place tonight?”

Sweat beaded on his forehead. “, about that-”


“Maybe you could come get me now, so we could have some alone time.”

She was practically purring like Stinky always did. Gene suddenly grew angry, not at Rachel for assuming he’d be tempted by her cloying, manipulative tone, but for the fact he was tempted to drop his plans, get into Dad’s Lexus and motor on over. Rachel was one of the hottest girls in school, even if she did often dump guys like Clay Walker, and various other members of the football team, simply because her attention span was roughly that of the average goldfish. Gene knew he’d be the next one to be tossed onto the growing pile of guys whose lives she ruined. That didn’t change the fact that, for now, she was his, and having Rachel Perry was like taking home a championship trophy.


But now? During my time? The killing time? Rachel, that’s just not fair.

“Gene?” She insisted at his silence, impatience oozing from the phone with each passing second her didn’t reply. Gene was pretty certain that, if he didn’t come up with a Rachel-friendly response in the next few seconds, she’d move on. Maybe to Ashton Nicholls, the cornerback on the team and a year younger, who made no bones in the locker room what he’d do if he had a prize like Rachel.

Bong! The clock shattered his nerves like a fork scraping a bone china plate. Please tell me that was the tenth and last chime. I can’t concentrate on both Rachel and the clock.

Is this the crap Clay went through with her before she dumped him because he wasn’t paying enough attention to her?

A brief second of empathy went out to his ex-best friend, who failed to hang onto Rachel like someone trying to tackle a greased pig at a state fair. A great friendship ruined, just because some high school tart wagged her tail in another direction.

Oh God, but what a tail.

Gene fumbled for words, but despite opening his mouth, none spilled out.

What to do?

I should be killing right now, alone with my weapons of grisly death, and I’m wasting my time dealing with this petty crap. It’s been a whole year since my last killing. How much longer do I have to wait?

“Well, the thing is...”

On the other hand, this is Rachel Perry on the Rachel Perry, the girl who every guy dreams about when their Dad’s girly magazines no longer do the trick; the girl I destroyed a ten-year friendship for. The girl who chose me, Gene Dacron, as her current boy-toy. How many guys in school can boast that distinction? And, after all, this is just the first day of Spring Break. Couldn’t I just put off the killing for one day? For Rachel? Besides, swapping spit on Mom and Dad’s living room couch sounds pretty good right now.

Apparently, Rachel didn’t care about the clock, Gene’s internal turmoil, nor his hesitation in responding to her suggestions.

“Look, Gene,” The seduction left her voice. “Your parents are gone. My parents are at work and I’m home alone, yet you ain’t comin’ to get me. If you’ve really got to think about this, then maybe-”

“No, no, no!” He did his best to keep from sounding like he was groveling, which made him suddenly resent the girl he tried so hard to catch. Gene resisted the urge to hang up on her right then and there. At the same time, the grandfather clock’s incessant bongs ceased, and brief relief swam over him, clearing his mind so he could focus on one crisis at a time. “That ain’t it. I gotta do some errands for my folks first, and I won’t be home ‘till this afternoon.”

A lengthy pause over the phone. Gene didn’t know whether to be relieved or disturbed. If Rachel broke it off now - and why am I leaving everything up to her? - it would free him to commence with the killing right away, with no further interruptions. On the other hand, if she bought his ruse, and was willing to wait a few hours, he could have the best of both and death.

He could practically hear the rusty gears in Rachel’s head churning, not that she was hard to figure out. Her shameless talent for manipulating drooling boys - which Gene didn’t want to admit he was one of - had less to do with her intellect than how she looked in boots and a short skirt.

“Fine,” she finally declared. “Do your so-called errands-”

“Come on, Rachel, don’t be that way-” The desperation in his own voice made him nauseous.

“-and call me when you get your priorities straight.”

Whether or not Rachel meant it to sound like a threat, Gene took it as one, especially since she didn’t bother to say goodbye before hanging up.


The grandfather clock’s 10:00 AM chimes still banging around in his head, Gene snapped his cell shut, tossed it to the dining room table and bolted toward his room, deftly side-stepping Stinky, who tried to get underfoot for his attention.

“Bad kitty,” he grumbled as he took the steps two-at-a-time. Stinky meowed in protest, scurrying out of his way.

Upon reaching his bedroom, Gene stripped off his ‘civilian’ clothes - absently noting yet-another pee stain in the crotch of his jeans - and dug through his top dresser drawer until he found what he was looking for...a dingy set of gray overalls, stolen from a mechanic’s garage when Gene accompanied Dad to get the Lexus’ brake fixed. It was his uniform-of-choice when engaging in killing. Quickly thrusting his legs into the pant legs, he wormed his way into the suit and frantically gripped the zipper, yanking it up from crotch to collar in less than a second.

His barely heard the distant chirp from his cell downstairs, repeating the same Iron Maiden riff - “Run to the Hills.” Gene ignored the first ring, but when it insisted on continuing to get his attention, he threw up his arms in frustration.

Is there some higher force at work here?

Probably Rachel, miffed I didn’t call right back to grovel.

A horrid thought crept in.

What if it’s Mom and Dad? What if something happened, like the flight was cancelled and I have to pick them up. That’d ruin everything!

His heart suddenly hammered like a Metallica tune. Fresh sweat broke on his forehead.

Dammit, Gene, get a hold of yourself. Their flight was scheduled to leave at 9:00! They’d have called before now.

He exhaled a long, relieved breath, cheeks ballooning like a chipmunk’s. No need to get jumpy right now.

Plucking a brand new pair of shiny white Nikes from the closet, which he bought with his allowance for just this occasion, Gene plopped onto his bed, crammed in his feet and quickly tied the laces.

Iron Maiden continued to chirp for his attention. Swearing out loud, which he almost never did - swearing was for animals who didn’t know how to articulate themselves - he scurried downstairs, yelping in panic when he momentarily forgot where he left his phone.

Mom? Rachel? Who’s calling, and where did I leave that stupid...

...that’s right! The dining room table

Gene hurried into the dining room, throwing an alarmed glance back to the grandfather clock.

10:00. Still?

That didn’t make any sense. Neither did the fact that, other than a springtime bouquet of fake flowers Mom always used as a centerpiece this time of year, the dining room table was bare.

“Run to the Hills” blared from the phone yet again, but this time it rocked from one of the pockets in his letterman jacket, which he still wore.

What? I could have sworn...

Gene crammed into his pocket, yanked out his cell and (this time?) checked to see who was calling before he answered. Rachel’s face beamed back. He smiled, recalling when he took this photo at a bowling party sponsored by her church, and how cute she looked in those green and white bowling shoes.

“Hey, Rachel,” he said as cheerily as possible, worming out of his jacket and hanging it on the nearest dining room chair. He didn’t want to upset her any more than she was, and it crossed his mind that maybe it wouldn’t kill him to pop by her place for just a little bit-

He glanced out the window, which offered a view of the back yard. The rain ceased; the sun peaked through clouds to smile down on Mom’s garden.

He frowned. What am I thinking?

Hanging onto Rachel’s what you’re thinking, you idiot. You really wanna lose her to some goon like Ashton Nichols? Or her back to Clay? She’s obviously calling back to give you one last chance to shower her with your attention.

Oh, man-up and grow a pair! You gonna let this bubblehead interfere with your plans?

“I still haven’t gone on my errands for my folks yet,” he finally said, then braced for her to throw another hissy fit before hanging up again.

“What errands?” Rachel asked, sounding confused.

Gene scowled. “The ones I told you about when you just called a few minutes ago. What are you, a human Etch-A-Sketch?”

“I didn’t call you a few minutes ago.” Confusion turned to anger, with a bit of hurt thrown in. “Why do you say stuff like that to me? Look, I just called to let you know I can’t go to the movies with you tonight. Dairy Queen called and they need me to cover the drive-thru tonight. How ‘bout we try another night? After all, it’s Spring Break and we can go out any time.”

He considered hanging up on her this time. What kind of game was she playing?

The back yard beckoned...

I’m done groveling.

“Whatever, Rachel,” he seethed, feeling suddenly empowered by his newly-found focus on what’s really important. “If you can’t be flexible with my schedule, why should I be flexible with yours? As you so eloquently put it before, call me when you get your priorities straight. Or go hook up with Ashton Nichols for all I care. I hear he’s chomping the bit to be your next boy toy.”

“Gene, what’s wrong with you? Ashton Nichols? Who the heck is Ashton Nic-”

He shut off the phone, snapped it closed and bolted toward his room, deftly side-stepping Stinky, who tried to get underfoot for his attention.

“Bad kitty,” he grumbled as he took the steps two-at-a-time. Stinky meowed in protest, scurrying out of his way.

Gene paused at the top of the stairs, throwing a troubled glance back down at the cat, who scampered into the kitchen.

Wow, he thought as he continued down the hall. Talk about deja vu.

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