by R.W. Van Sant
They drove through dawn, curiosity the only thing keeping Jerry’s eyes open. The sun eventually broke through the haze, giving Jerry his first breathless look at the Pacific Ocean. It was calm flat and, although he knew that it was several thousand miles across, looking at it for the first time, the ocean seemed endless. Boats of all sizes and types were scattered about its surface, like specs of dirt, marring its pristine visage. Small waves near the coastline reflected the sunlight like little mirrors, making watching the splendor for more than a few moments painful on the eyes.
“I could use some coffee,” Ted announced as they approached a little town. “How ‘bout you?”
“I could use something. Any chance there’s a Starbucks in there?”
“Great, no Starbucks, you went and bought a place in the boonies.” Jerry was starving. Ted drove into the parking lot. Jerry had major doubts that the truck would start again, but he kept them to himself.
The store looked small from the outside, but the inside was no different from a New Mexican convenience store. Their selection of junk foods was immense and varied. Real, fresh food, however, was noticeably lacking. Jerry walked around, eventually grabbing a box of chocolate donuts and a cup of machine cappuccino. Ted chose an extra-large cup of coffee and opened several flavored creamers into it.
The door behind them slid open. Two teenagers dressed in swimsuits and tee shirts entered tripping the door chime. Jerry was several feet away and could smell the aroma of beer and cigarette smoke that followed behind them. Ted lifted his hand to his mouth with a few jerking motions, the international sign for excessive drinking. Jerry stifled a laugh as they went to the register to pay for their selections.
“Did you see James?” One of the drunks commented loudly.
“Oh my God, was he drunk.” The other one responded.
“You couldn’t get me drunk enough.”
“I told him the cliff was too high. Stupid, man, stupid. He’s crazy as a Teller.”
Ted’s spine straightened and his smile disappeared.
Crazy as a Teller?
Jerry looked at Ted, who waved him off. The cashier gave him the total. Ted pulled a twenty from his front pocket and handed it over.
“He’ll be on crutches through graduation.” The first drunk continued.
“Shh!” the other made an emphatic thumb motion toward Ted. Jerry just looked at them as Ted walked out without a word. They teenagers moved past Jerry toward the chips section, eying him as if he was a snake about to strike. Jerry followed his brother out. Ted was leaning against the truck, sipping his coffee with a sour look on his face. A few moments later, the teens came back out. They skirted the edge of the store, walking quickly and silently as if to avoid attracting Ted’s attention.
“What was that about?” Jerry asked once they were back on the road.
“Just a saying,” Ted said.
“They were afraid of you?” Jerry asked.
“Too much beer. Let’s just get to the house. I’m drained.” Ted took a long drink of the coffee, nearly oblivious to the steam rising from it.
Jerry took a smaller more tentative sip. What could have spooked those kids? Ted was not a very imposing figure, maybe he knew their parents, and Jerry was too tired to push the issue just then. “Want a donut?”