[ two ]

Pandora clicked the TV off and announced, “Alright. We’re outta here.”

She headed out of the living room towards the garage through the hallway. Louise replaced the photo album on the shelf where she’d found it. Everyone followed Pandora to the garage, and got into her dark green Cressida. Jed sat in the passenger seat, and Louise and Amanda sat in back. Pandora turned the key and her car kicked into life.

“Yeah baby,” she whispered to it. “Soundin’ good.” Pandora loved her car more than any other possession she had. She threw the car into reverse, backed out through the already open garage door, and lovingly let her mother know they were leaving with a loud meep from the car’s horn.

As they moved along the street somewhere around 15 miles per hour above the speed limit, Pandora popped in one of only two tapes she ever had in her car. It was Pandora’s favorite selections from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The other tape was of the Afghan Whigs’ Black Love. Pandora refused to have any other music in the car, despite her sizable CD collection to draw from. The only radio she listened to was the local all-news station. Louise rolled the window down. She felt the cool wind blow in over her face and tussle her hair. She stared out the window, watching the suburban homes scroll past in slow motion.

She leaned up to Jeremiah, who was sitting in the passenger seat. She gave his newly-shaved head a rub and asked, “So why’d you do this?”

“Just ‘cuz. I dunno.” He added, half-jokingly: “Maybe I’m depressed.”

No one said anything.

“Anyways, did you know that Buddhist monks shave their heads as a rejection of vanity?”

Louise regarded this as a strange remark coming from Jed, who was a notoriously well-dressed high schooler. Jed had come out on this lovely weekday night wearing a cobalt blue button-down shirt and black pants. Louise asked with a ironic tone of voice, “You’re a bit dressed up, don’t you think?”

“There’s a difference between being vain and looking your best.”

“Okaaaaay,” she replied, not quite grasping his logic.

Old Man Red’s was just a few miles away from Pandora’s house, and they got there quickly. There was a sizable crowd at their favorite coffeehouse, especially for a Tuesday night. Pandora parked a block and a half away, and everyone piled out of the car. They walked over to Old Man Red’s, and just as they got there, a group of yuppie-looking twentysomethings vacated a table out on the patio. Pandora immediately claimed the table, sitting in one of the metal chairs and slouching down with comfort. “Someone get me a decaf mocha, please. Nonfat,” Pandora said.

“No prob -- I gotcha covered,” replied Jed. The three went inside to get drinks.

They went inside, and Louise immediately recognized “Cabezon” playing by Red House Painters. She knew immediately what that meant. It meant that Ken was working. He was the only one at the coffeehouse who ever played Red House Painters. She looked behind the counter and saw him at the register. They waited as the line shrank until it was their turn to order. Amanda and Jeremiah got their drinks, paid separately and went outside to join Pandora, leaving Louise behind.

She gave her usual welcome to Ken. “Hey...what’s the frequency, Kenneth?”

“Louise! What’s up,” he said with a golden smile. “How’s it going?”

She put on a fragile smile of her own and replied, “Not too bad, if I do say so myself.”

“What’ll it be for ya?”

“Tall decaf, s’il vous plait.”

“Alright...sounds good.”

He turned around to pour her coffee. Louise stood there silently, taking in the music and the paintings on the wall by local artists. She tapped her fingers on the counter, and Ken returned shortly with a cup filled to the brim. Louise held out a five. He took it and rung up the register.

As he was doing so, Louise quietly forced out: “So, um...Kenneth. Have you seen...umm...William around....lately?”

Ken made her change and held it out for her. “Yeah. Just the other day. He asked if you’d been in.”

She felt her heart jump in her chest, and fall to the bottom of her stomach.

“Really?” she whispered, her voice half-cracking.


Her fragile smile returned. “Millie grazie. Check ya later, Kenny.” She turned to go outside.

“Take it easy, Louise,” he said as he watched her walk away. He felt his heart jump and fall into the bottom of his stomach when she left, like it always did when he looked in her big brown eyes and her delicate face.

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