Chapter 1: The Waiting

James gazed out the window, only part of him paying any attention to what was happening around him. He listened to the rapping of the rain against the Deaner’s old three story farm house, letting his thoughts run as they pleased. Everytime the rolling thunder would hum, it was gently massaging his soul. He sat in a tall bar chair with his head against the window. His light brown locks fell even with his brow, his expression was ready, but not wanting.

The 4-10 semi-automatic shotgun sat pointed down between his legs. His father had given it to him on his twelfth birthday, the opening day of deer hunting season. He looked down at the beautiful polished stock and saw his initials, “JJA,” engraved in the wood in magnificent swooping cursive; his mother had designed the engraving. Last year, for his twenty-third birthday, he and his dad added a military grade scope. How his dad got a hold of it, James had no idea. His brother, Jake, got a gun just like it on his twelfth birthday. James’ sister, Jessie, who was only a year younger than James, chose a thoroughbred barrel racing horse instead.

James shivered, and adjusted his dark blue zip-up sweatshirt that read Braves. He scratched his head and looked out the window. To his right was Reg, sitting on the floor with his eyes closed and head against the wall. Although his mother was black, Reg had long, smooth, dark hair like his father – and it was thick too. Incredibly fast and muscular, dark skinned, and an all around great guy, Reg was a stud. He was a physical specimen: standing beneath the basketball hoop he could jump up and put the ball between his legs before dunking it; and he could do a standing one legged back-flip; but those are two things he did when people simply wanted a show; the tip of the iceberg. In big moments, this guy was who James looked to throw the football to. And, much to their father’s dismay, the ladies couldn’t stay away from him.

Diagonally across from Reg, sitting in a discolored, pinkish lazy boy chair, sat Dylan, fiddling with the chamber of his black .357 Magnum. He had been spinning, closing, and then reopening the chamber for the last forty-five minutes. He was eager, and James could sense his frustration at the lack of action. Dylan was feisty, and a little bit shorter than the rest of the guys, but he was strong and quick. He threw the first punch, and his mouth was almost always running. He played nose tackle and fullback when they were in high school. Always full of energy, and never able to sit still. Dylan closed his eyes and took a deep breath, followed by a long loud exhale.

To Dylan’s left, sleeping in the fetal position in the corner of the room, right by Mr. Deaner’s book case, was Bean. His grandmother and grandfather moved to America from Brazil in the 1950’s. Bean was a cool dude: he was thin but muscular, his skin a shade lighter than Reg’s. His mom and dad had met at a catholic church when they were sixteen and were both very musical. Bean loved the music of the sixties, and played all sorts of instruments; plus he played slot receiver and cornerback for the football team. He was all fun, always dancing, singing, and snapping his fingers – until game time, then he was all business.

“James?” Reg and Dylan’s eyes shot up as they heard the voice on the walkie talkie radio. It was sitting on the windowsill next to James. James calmly picked it up, his eyes never moving from the fixed point he gazed at out the window. What was it James saw?

“Go ahead.”

“They’re pulling in,” the voice said in a low, serious tone.

“Roger. I’ll be right up.”

James sat the walkie talkie back on the windowsill, stood up slowly, and zipped his sweatshirt all the way up before putting up his hood. Reg and Dylan looked up at him, waiting for orders from their captain, their leader. James solemnly picked up his gun, and walked between Dylan and Reg, toward the fire escape across from the window he had just been seated at. Their heads followed him like dogs.

He walked past Bean. “Tell sleeping beauty it’s time to wake up.” He said just before he put a foot out the window and onto the escape.

Outside the rain was still coming down, not pouring, as they say, but enough to soak through your clothes in ten minutes or so. The sky was gray and dreary. As James climbed the first set of stairs on the escape, he looked to his right, north, and let out a sigh. The air was chilly, and steam rolled out of his mouth like smoke. James thought it was situations like these, the waiting, wondering anxiously about what would happen next, that drove people to smoke cigarettes. A cigarette sounded good, even for a young man who didn’t smoke them.

Anything sounded good right now; anything but now; anything but the past year or so.

He gazed for another moment at the north side of the small town he had grown up in. The laundromat, Andrews Taxidermist, and Braveheart’s Butcher Shop, sat across from the Deaner’s home. He could see a few deer mannequins staring out the window of his dad’s taxidermist. Behind the buildings, westward, were fields that normally contained soybeans and alfalfa for miles – but they hadn’t been planted this year. So, instead of beautiful, lively fields of green, James saw nothing but dirt, until the deciduous trees began way off in the distance. The sight sadden him.

James turned around and looked at his old high school, Northwood. The parking lot sat just to his side of the school, right in front of the softball field. Directly behind the school was the track and football field, and, to the west of it, behind the softball field was the baseball field, followed by the soccer field. Beautiful, vibrant green trees lined the school at its north and east property lines.

James thought about the people inside the building right now, all of the people counting on him. Being in charge of people was draining him.

James put his head down and drudged up the fire escape, the cold rain beginning to soak through his clothes. Once he reached the roof he could see Clint’s long body, stretched out underneath a lean-to he had built out of cinder blocks and a piece of plywood. Clint was staring south through binoculars. James crouched and moved toward him, quickly, to escape the rain and not be seen.

“What’s up, Big Cat?” James said, as he slid into the low hanging shelter.

“Activity, Boss. Take a look.” Clint slid over as he handed James the binoculars. James could barely make out the figures as he looked through the foggy lenses.

Clint explained what James should be seeing. “Three military grade RVs, man. Packed full of guys. I’m counting at least twenty men.”

“Is that how many you saw on the scout?” James asked, still peering through the binoculars.

“No, there’s two more RV’s at Evergreen. These guys aren’t our friends, brother.”

James assumed anybody not in Northwood High School and carrying a gun wasn’t a friend these days. He hated that fact, but it was true enough.

“What about the guys that chased you two down?”

“We didn’t get a chance to see them really. I don’t think they would have killed us right then and there, but I wasn’t staying around to find out.”

“Damn, look at these guys move, the way they clear those buildings.” James observed.

“Yeah, Captain. We gotta make some moves soon, because once they find us, we’re fucked. And that’s not good for your brother and sister back at the school, along with the rest of them.”

“Yeah, I know.” James replied sharply.

“Here,” he handed Clint the binoculars, “tell me when they enter the doughnut shop and when they come back out. We’ll time it and estimate how long we’ve got before they get to us.”

Clint peered out. James looked at his watch.

“Go.”

James watched the seconds hand of his watch move around the white face. It was his father’s before his, and his grandfather’s before that. The gold ring around the face and dark brown leather strap had begun to wear. James wondered how much longer the watch would work. He closed his eyes and thought about his father for a moment.

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