Author: grieving-pln PM
Canon One-Shot taking place in the fall of 1983. A birthday party for Junior. The party goes well. The events immediately following the party do not. Angst. Character death.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama - Words: 2,583 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 3 - Published: 06-13-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8215024
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"Daddy, you came!" Junior ran to greet her father as he edged his way through the crowd.
"Course I came, darlin. Wouldn't miss your party." Ennis caught his beanpole daughter in his arms as she lunged at him and gave him a huge hug. He felt his cheeks burn brightly at the public display, but ignored it for the sake of the elated look on his eldest daughter's face.
"Well, the last time we talked, you said you thought you'd be workin." Junior took a step back, a little breathless, grasping her father's hand to pull him through the crowd to their tables set up in the back.
"Hold on there a minute, gal. Let me get a look at you." Ennis took Junior's other hand and stepped back, eyeing her from head to toe. "You look beautiful, daughter. All grown up."
"Am grown up, daddy. Ain't a little girl no more." Junior smiled, the same shy smile that belonged to her father. And she blushed a beautiful shade of red as well, another trait she'd inherited from her daddy. A lovely shade that dominated her cheeks, enough to perfectly match the shade of her blouse and the tint of her headband holding back her hair.
"Come on, daddy. We're back here. Want you to say hello to my friends you ain't never met yet." Junior linked her arm with her father and led him through the crowded Pizza Hut to the back room where two large rectangular tables were reserved and packed to capacity with family and friends. Ennis balked momentarily when he realized just how many people were there for his daughter's birthday.
"Mighty nice turn out, darlin."
Junior grinned, pulling her father along past the first table situated with family to the second table filled with all her friends from her job and her college classes. "Everybody wave as I call your name." Junior was a little giddy, working on her fourth Pepsi. "This here's Ben, and that's Travis, and that there's Jimmy, and over there are Tanner and Ricky, and that there's Tyler hidin over in the corner."
Ennis nodded and grunted with each new name, having already removed his hat upon entering the building. All six boys stood, three of whom offered their hands in greeting.
"And this here's Christina, Debbie, and Tracy, and on that side we have Denise, Joyce and Peggy." All six girls giggled as Ennis nodded to each of them in turn. The table was already filled to capacity with several large combination pizzas and multiple pitchers of icy soda, encompassing every color known to the drinking world, from a clear bubbly
7-Up to a deep-maroon cherry beverage.
"Go on back now and join your friends. I'll find a spot to sit down over here."
"Thanks so much for comin, daddy." Junior looked genuinely touched and choked up for a moment. "So glad you did."
Ennis stroked his daughter's hair, leaning down to kiss her on the forehead. In the back of his mind, he hoped the gesture wouldn't embarrass her in front of her friends. She seemed to be fine with it.
"Got a little somethin here for ya, sweetheart." Ennis whispered as he pulled away from her face. He reached into his pocket, pulling out a tiny white box with a red velvet bow. "You can open it later if you like, but wanted to make sure I didn't forgit to give it to ya." Ennis smiled. "Happy birthday, darlin."
Junior nodded, following her father's gaze around the crowded room, and knew he'd be more comfortable if she opened it later. She slipped the small package into her pocket, hugging her father one more time before rejoining her friends. "Thank you, daddy."
"Think you might wanna join the party over at this here table, stranger?" Ennis turned at the sound of the familiar voice, although it had been years since it had sounded so comfortable and relaxed.
"Hey, Ennis. You're lookin good. Better than the last time I saw you. You been eatin better?"
"You're lyin. I look like shit."
Alma laughed at the unexpected response, a loud, long comfortable laugh that filled the room and brought everyone's attention to them for a moment. Ennis immediately regretted his answer.
"C'mon, Ennis." Alma took his arm, just above the elbow. "You look like you could use some food."
"Thought you just said I look like I been eatin better, huh?" Ennis quirked a brow and almost smiled. The near-smile was not lost on his ex-wife. "You do somethin different to your hair?" Ennis felt suddenly silly for asking, but the words were out, and it was too late to take them back.
Alma looked up as she continued to lead Ennis to the adjoining table and practically beamed. "Can't believe you noticed. You like it?"
Ennis tried not to frown. Could he get himself into trouble for saying he liked his ex-wife's hair?
"Uh…looks to be a mighty pretty shade a light red." Ennis stammered.
"Called strawberry blonde, and it covers up the gray comin in." Alma winked without thinking about it, and Ennis took a step back, this time letting the smile come through. He hadn't had a relaxed conversation with Alma in years. He decided it felt kind of nice.
"Hey there, Ennis. So glad you could make it." Monroe rose from the other side of the table, walking around to greet Ennis warmly, shaking his hand vigorously, while placing his left hand on the taller man's shoulder. "Can I pour you a beer?" Monroe motioned to one of the pitchers on the second table.
"Sure. That'd be mighty nice." Ennis walked around the table, greeting everyone else that was there. Both Alma's sisters had come down for the day, bringing along their own kids, some of them close in age to Billy, Alma's little boy with Monroe. Alma's mama was there as well, sitting at the end, looking a little lost and out of place, never quite the same after having lost her husband to cancer two years earlier.
"Where's Jenny?" Ennis noticed that his younger daughter was missing from the festivities.
Alma shrugged and frowned. "She's a teenager."
Ennis realized that was supposed to be an enlightening answer, but he shook his head and hunched his shoulders to acknowledge his confusion anyway.
"Said she had to do a little shoppin with friends first. Said she'd meet us here." Alma looked to the end of the other table where Junior was busily talking and laughing with her friends, and then leaned in close to whisper conspiratorially to Ennis. "Think she done forgot her own sister's birthday. Had to run to the store at the last minute to buy her a present."
"Oh." Ennis pursed his lips and nodded.
He understood full well how that could have happened, having just bought his own present for Junior right before coming to the party, which was why he himself had been a few minutes late. But he couldn't just show up empty-handed, and what he'd found was perfect. A beautiful little necklace with a silver heart and a red ruby in the middle. Of course, the stone wasn't real, but it was real pretty nonetheless, and he knew Junior would like it. She had always loved red, still did, Ennis noted as he glanced again at her blouse and her headband. He smiled, thinking how nice the necklace would look with what she was wearing, and also found himself wondering what Jenny would buy for her sister.
As if on cue, Jenny came rushing in, along with three of her girlfriends. "Am I late? Daddy! You made it!"
"Why ever'body gotta keep sayin that, huh?" Ennis grumbled under his breath as he was swept up by his second daughter into an equally enthusiastic hug.
"Just good to see you, is all." Jenny held on for a moment more.
"Good to see you too, sweetheart."
"Daddy, you remember my friends? Robin, Megan, Cathy." The girls smiled and nodded, referring to Ennis as Mr. del Mar, and Megan even extended her arm to shake his hand.
"Nice to see you girls again."
"Jenny, come on down here. We'll make room." Junior called across the crowded room to her sister and her friends. Ben and Travis jumped up to move another small table, adding it to the end, making room for the additional four girls.
"Love ya, daddy." Jenny squeezed her father's arm, then was off to the other side of the room, to join the people of interest.
Still trying to make it to a seat and a beer, Ennis suddenly found his long legs completely immobilized. Looking down, his gaze was met by two huge hazel eyes attached to a five-year-old boy.
"Well, howdy there, Billy. You got quite a hold there on my legs. Don't think I's gonna be able to move none."
Billy giggled, while Alma and Monroe both hollered at him to let Ennis go. He did so, reluctantly, but took the man's large hand in his own and led the smirking Ennis the rest of the way to the table.
Monroe handed Ennis the much-needed beer; Alma handed him a plate with four slices of his favorite pizza. Ennis looked at both of them, smiling at each other, and then at him, and felt a wave of peace and relaxation come over him that he hadn't felt in a very long time. He'd felt wound up tighter than a brand-new spring for months on end. But suddenly, seeing the relaxed smiles of everyone around him, he wanted to relax as well. He allowed himself the luxury of something he didn't do very often in the presence of others. He permitted his mind to wander and rest on all things and all people who were good and precious in his life. And that was enough to clinch it for him.
Ennis smiled in return.
A few hours later, everyone stuffed and happy, with only two minor mishaps and spillages, the gathering came to a close with many hugs and multiple handshakes, slaps on the back, and kisses on the forehead. Junior pulled her daddy aside before he could leave and retrieved the box from her pocket.
"I want to open it now, with you here. Okay?"
Ennis nodded, and Junior opened the small box that fit in the palm of her hand. When she lifted her head, her eyes were glistening.
"Help me put it on?"
Ennis nodded again, taking the dainty chain in his large hands, while Junior lifted her hair out of the way. The silver heart with the red stone lay against her red blouse, matching beautifully, just as he thought it would.
"Thank you, daddy. It's beautiful. I love it." Junior hugged her father once more, before being dragged away by all her friends who wanted a better look at the birthday present.
Ennis took that opportunity to slip in the rest of his goodbyes, smiling again at Alma, and ruffling little Billy's hair.
"Take care of yourself now, Ennis." Alma's eyes were soft and kind, and for the first time since their divorce, Ennis realized she wasn't mad anymore. She was happy, and she was okay, and she deserved to be both.
"I try, Alma. I try."
Ennis slipped away then, through the front room that was still just as crowded as it had been hours earlier, and made his way outside to the parking lot. Pulling his smokes from his pocket, he tapped one out, lit it, and looked around, trying to decide if he had time to take care of a few errands before heading home. He glanced at his watch and decided he did. He wanted to go by the liquor store on the corner, pick up a few things, some cigarettes, maybe some beef jerky for later. And he wanted to go by the Post Office. He was expecting the new Hamley's Catalog any day now.
As Ennis drove down Federal Avenue and turned onto Main Street, he passed Red's Irish Pub at the corner, and contemplated coming back later that evening, maybe having a beer or two, playing a game of pool. He hadn't felt like getting out and doing anything in months. But for the first time in a long while, Ennis felt like he could be around other people and not break down or explode.
"Hey, Ennis. What you been up to?" Maybelle greeted him warmly as he entered the liquor store.
"Oh, just working mostly, ma'am."
"Listen to you. Always with that ma'am shit. How many times I gotta tell you to call me Maybelle?"
"Yes, ma'am." Ennis lowered his hat as he hustled to the back to find his whiskey and his beer. Maybelle was a just little too friendly at times, but the store was close and had everything he needed. He smiled at her politely as she rang him up at the register. She made no attempt to downplay her flirtatious ways, even making a mistake on the register in her distraction. She swore at herself under her breath, before shrugging apologetically and redoing the sale. Ennis couldn't get out of there fast enough.
As he made his way to West Main Street and Riverton's Post Office, he considered once again the possibility of playing some pool later that evening at Red's. Parking his truck across the street, he noticed the vehicle that had been left there for several days. Beat-up clunker the color of an old brick, the car had broken down, days earlier, and hadn't been touched since.
Ennis entered the post office, nodded to a few people he knew, and even to a few he didn't, feeling a bit more relaxed and hospitable with the beer and the pizza putting his body in a comfortable haze. Pulling the pile of mail from his box, he could see the catalog he'd been expecting had arrived. He recognized it even though it was rolled and wrapped in a red rubber band. He waited until he'd exited the Post Office and was a few steps into the street before he removed the rubber band from around the stack of mail…the electric bill, a stock magazine, a flyer advertising a sale at the grocery store…
A red truck passed in front of Ennis as he stopped abruptly, staring at the items in his hands. He looked up, trying to re-focus.
But all he could see was red.
The red wood paneling of the Café across the street. The back of the red truck that had just passed in front of him. The brick-red stones of the building he'd just exited. And the red of the rubber band slipping from his fingers to the street.
His breath caught. His heart stopped. His hands shook as the next truck driving by came dangerously close. The driver yelled at him to get out of the street.
But all Ennis could see was red.