I started this story a couple of weeks ago and then became preoccupied with another project (more on that later). Here's a little more of it, with the previous episode highlighted so you can skip it if you like.
Still no title on this, but there's a working title for the anthology. Enjoy!
Sideways glances at the girl in the passenger seat, following directions from the three boys in the back seat, concentration wavering between them all. At the junction, he took a longer than usual look up the street and pretended to make an extra ‘lifesaver check’ before pressing the accelerator.
“Quit checking Cheryl out and concentrate on the road!” The fourth voice from the back seat chimed in.
His face and neck heated up and the four cramped back seat passengers laughed. Cheryl took one look at him, but remained silent. Tight-lipped, a frown embedded in the skin of her forehead, the trip anything but a joy-ride for her at least.
“You ok?” He nudged her knee with his hand whilst changing gear.
She nodded without looking at him. “Yeah, I’ll be fine.”
“Take the next road on the left. Drive slowly or you’ll miss it.” One of the passengers in the back called out.
The jumble of voices calling out instructions simultaneously rendered their directions indecipherable. “There, that’s the turn. Damnit, we missed it. Back-up.”
He put the car into reverse and pulled back a few feet so he could make the turn. The inside of the car fell silent. Crawling forward at walking pace so he could make sure his dad’s car didn’t hit the potholes and rocks strewn along what should have been a road, he frowned, pursed his lips and concentrated on getting the car to the destination.
“Andy, we’re close.” Cheryl’s whisper could be heard clearly only because the rest of the passengers were so quiet.
Andy pressed the brake to slow the car. “Where? Here?”
“Just a few yards.” Cheryl’s whisper became quieter. He had to strain to hear, even in the silence.
She tapped her hand on his leg and he applied the brake. Andy looked out through the side window, pulled the handbrake and took the car out of gear. His hand reached for the key in the ignition to turn off the engine.
“Don’t switch it off.” Cheryl’s strained, tense voice caught his attention and he looked right at her. She shook her head to confirm what she’d told him.
“What now?” Andy looked at Cheryl. She shrugged. Andy turned to his other passengers.
They shrugged together and Andy grinned. “You look like those three monkeys, only there are four of you.”
Andy turned to look forward again and caught movement from the bushes to his left. A man strolled out of the cover of the bushes and approached the car. Andy put the car in gear, foot on the clutch, ready to go if necessary.
“That’s her dad. I’ll talk to him. Be respectful if he speaks to you.”
Andy wound down the window as the man approached. In the gloom of dusk, the man’s face had no distinguishing features. He approached and from the light inside the car, the grief, anger and confusion stood out, described by a face etched with lines and wrinkles and unshaved, prematurely grey stubble.
“Hello, Mr Reynolds.” Cheryl leaned forward in order to see his face when he closed in on the vehicle.
He sighed. “Hello Cheryl. I’ve been looking for you coming by. I didn’t realise you’d be bringing friends.”
“I’m sorry about coming by so late, and with friends, but this time of year is always difficult for me… for us all. These guys are my closest friends and they notice when my mood sinks. I decided it was time to tell them why. I hope you don’t mind?” Cheryl leaned forward, across Andy. She placed both hands on the door and leaned her weight on them. She looked up at the man and Andy and Mr Reynolds were the only people in any position to see the tear slip down her cheek.
Mr Reynolds sighed and his head lowered. He seemed to shrink with the sigh and Andy studied him.
“I don’t want to speak out of turn, Mr Reynolds.” Andy paused and waited for a moment. “I’m kinda new in town and Cheryl and her friends took me under their wing. I’m Andy.”
“I think I spoke to your dad last week. You’ve moved into the house on the edge of town, closest to the lake.” Mr Reynolds looked up at Andy and a flicker of a smile smoothed his face for a second.
“Yeah, that’s us.” Andy gave a shy smile. “Cheryl told me a little about what happened and I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Thanks, son.” Mr Reynolds looked down at the ground and gave another sigh. “Maybe it’s time we talked about it all, Cheryl. Bring your friends, we can show them where it happened and maybe they can give their opinion of what could have happened.”
“We don’t want to intrude.” Andy stopped speaking. Cheryl clutched his leg in a silent signal to shut up.
Mr Reynolds looked inside the car. He gave each kid a moment of his time, looking into their eyes until they had to look away. “It’s time.”
The kids scrambled out of the car, eager for the adventure. Cheryl turned around and glared at them. The four back seat passengers stopped walking and stood contrite under the ferocity of her scowl. “This is not a game. Not only is Mr Reynolds still grieving, so am I. I want you to stop and think about that. You’ve been invited to hear what happened to his daughter… to Sherrie, and it’s not a joke. If you’re going to be joking about this tonight or tomorrow or even next week, you’re not invited.”
Four heads bobbed in agreement and their smiles slipped from their faces.
“You’ll let me down, I know you will.” Cheryl spoke to herself and no one, not even the closest to her heard. She wiped away another tear and followed Andy and Mr Reynolds.