Gatherers of Lions Rest, Chapter 2

Chapter 2, 

            Twelve buses arched around the school front. Ferris slipped between the cracks of #14 and #23. Hopping onto the curb, he joined the remaining students who have yet to load their buses. His eyes bounced from face to face, looking for the girl with tortoise shell horn rimmed glasses.

            “What bus does Ralphie ride?” he asked himself below his breath.

            Ferris met the lines end when the first bus departed. He sprinted towards the front of the pack. He pushed passed a string of sixth grade boys working their card cutting abilities for uninterested eighth graders. He barely missed the lips of a seventh grade couple while sliding through the precious seconds that led to their goodbye kiss. He hopped over a fellow fifth grader. He stopped, his frame perfectly still, heart pounding, at the sound of his name from a soft voice.

            It was Ms. Thirsby.

            He turned slowly in her direction. He focused on Charlie’s plan; Ms. Thirsby believed him to have been at the nurse’s office since lunch. In this situation, one might start and end every sentence with a cough. One might cut their words with sniffle or a sneeze. Ferris was a poor liar.

            “Mr. Kemp, I do hope you’re feeling better.”

            It took a moment for him to respond. He placed his right hand on his stomach. “I wish I could’ve been in class.”

            “It’s probably for the best that you received the medical attention you needed,” she said. “Did Nurse Strom take care of you?”

            Ferris covered his mouth using his left hand and coughed, “As best she could.”

            The second bus departed. Ferris cocked his head.

            “I’m not keeping you, am I?” Ms. Thirsby asked.

            “No ma’am, I’m walking home today,” he said.

            “Do you think that’s wise in your condition?” she asked, drawing the conversation.

            A woman in similar age to Ferris’ substitute teacher joined them.

            “Um, today I do,” he said, stumbling through his words.

            Ms. Thirsby briefly stood silent before rummaging through her purse. “I handed these out to the other students today.” 

            Ferris took the form she was holding. It began, “Dear Parents of Walton-Henry Fifth Grader.”  His heart sank. Charlie’s story didn’t work, she’d seen through it. He was found out. He was going to get detention. He was going to miss his date. He was going to miss B. Harpeth.

            Ms. Thirsby spoke, “It’s for the square dance.”

            Ferris scanned the left over students as the third and fourth buses turned out from the premises. “Thank you,” he said, taking the parental form.

            “I’ll be assisting Mr. Johannan for the next few weeks, until the dance craze is through.”

             Ferris forced a smile while trying to spot B. with his peripheral vision.

            “Oh,” Ms. Thirsby half-shouted. “Where are my manners?  Ferris Kemp, this is my dear friend, Ms. Julie Moline. Julie, this is Ferris Kemp.”

            “Nice to meet you. I’d shake your hand, but I’d hate to get you sick,” Ferris said, addressing the young woman.

            “You two haven’t met before?” Ms. Thirsby asked.

            “We have not,” Ms. Moline grinned.

            Ferris stood bewildered. This was his second encounter with Ms. Thirsby’s odd line of questioning. He couldn’t help but be curious as to why Ms. Thirsby had asked him about the clothing choices of a rabbit earlier in the day. He tried to keep his wandering eyes from being obvious to his substitute teacher. Relieved, he saw B. Harpeth nearing.

            “There you are, Ferris,” B. said with a wide smile. “Hello, Ms. Thirsby. Hello, Nurse Moline.”

            “Nurse?” Ferris’ voice cracked with the question.

            “Like Mrs. Casteth, Nurse Strom was on leave today; Julie was her sub.”  Ms. Thirsby slugged her purse over her shoulder. “Hmm, strange you didn’t notice, Mr. Kemp.”

            Ferris, still holding his stomach, furrowed his brow, “Yeah... strange.”

            “Strange,” Ms. Thirsby echoed. “Well, I will see you two next week.”

            Ms. Thirsby and Ms. Moline returned to the school, leaving the students to themselves.

            “I believe she’s on bus duty. Why is she leaving before the buses are gone?” B. asked.

            Ferris had gotten away with skipping class because Ms. Thirsby let him get away with skipping class; he was thankful. “She’s odd.”

            “Remarkably odd,” B. added.

            The final three buses passed behind B.’s back. Ferris noticed two boys with their noses pressed against a window in the front half of the middle bus. They were both giving thumbs up. It was Charlie Lincoln and Alvin Aberth.

            Their makeshift plan had worked.

            Francis’ Fountain was eight blocks away from Walton-Henry Middle School. Despite B.’s asking, Ferris wouldn’t tell her where he’d gone after lunch. He’d almost let slip while passing Nelson’s house, but quickly caught himself. B. didn’t seem to mind that he was keeping tight lipped.

            She reenacted the show that went on after lunch for Ferris. When Ms. Thirsby had asked why Ferris didn’t return to class with the other students, Charlie, not wasting a second, jumped to his desktop to recreate the forged event of Ferris’ falsified injury.

            “I can’t believe she didn’t kick him out,” he said.

            “I think she liked it,” B. admitted. “Whatever you pulled off, you boys are evil geniuses.”

            “For B...” his mouth barely made the buh sound before he cut himself off. “Charlie’s the one with the plan.”

            “You’re the one with the courage?”

            The 11-year-old held the door to Francis’ Fountain open for his date.

            The small building was sandwiched between a hardware store and a pharmacy. The shoppe was little more than a hallway, a tight fit space holding a vintage counter top and a line of art deco barstools to match. Elliston Francis had taken over the shoppe from his father in 1977, since then he’d been waiting for either of his neighbors to outgrow their lot. Elliston wanted to expand his shoppe’s space and it didn’t matter in which direction. His neighbors weren’t moving. He could move if not for being so stubborn.

            The shoppe’s slim strip of checker board tile was relatively scant, uncommon for a Friday afternoon. There were only a handful of the usual old timers. Had it been summertime, July or August, there would barely be enough room to extend a payment or accept a soda. Today there was room to breathe, even if the sweet shoppe air was tinged with the scent of the medicated elderly.

            Elliston Francis’ red and white striped shirt blended into the wall paper behind him. He cleaned a large metal mixing cup with a multi-flavor stained rag. Ferris and B. looked over the menu written on the peppermint wall.

            “What happened to the Three Fifty Shake?” B. asked.

            Elliston kept cleaning. “It’s the Four Dollar Shake now.”

            “The Four Dollar Shake?”

            “The Four Dollar Shake,” he said, setting down the shining mixing cup.

            “That’s a bit of a bump,” she said.

            Elliston shrugged, “Times get tough.”

            “But times also get better,” she countered. “When times get better, do prices as well?”

            “She has a point,” Ferris chimed, clenching the money in his pocket.

            Elliston rustled underneath the counter changing out an empty tray of strawberries. “You’ll have to talk to the manager.”

            “You’re the owner,” Ferris pointed.

            “Yeah and I said you’ll have to talk to the manager,” Elliston batted with the faintest hint of playfulness.

            “You’re that too!” Ferris burst.

            “Last year the Three Fifty Shake was the Three Dollar Shake,” B. started.

            Elliston set down a green banana bushel. “I can’t get anything passed you kids.”

            B. continued, “If you keep raising the prices the way you are, in two years you’ll be selling the Five Dollar Shake. Your shake is pretty darn good, but I don’t know if it’s worth $5.00.”

            “Hmm.” Elliston knelt down eye level across the counter, “I tell you what, if, if, I ever sell the Five Dollar Shake, I will only charge you, Ms. Harpeth, and you, Mr. Kemp, $3.50.”

            “We’ll take two Five Dollar shakes,” Ferris grinned, laying out his $19.12.

            “Dealer’s choice,” B. added.

            A spark lit in Elliston Francis’ eye; his greatest pleasure, next to making a buck, was creating new shakes and sodas. He went to work.

            “How was the rest of the afternoon in Ms. Thirsby’s?” Ferris asked.

            “Fascinating,” B. said with a spurt of excitement. “She shared the most beautiful and bizarre poetry.”

            “Like from poets?” he asked clumsily.

            She shook her head with a smile, “Of course; where else?”

            Ferris cheeks were flush with awe, not embarrassment. “Good point. What was your favorite?”

            “All of them,” she said almost immediately, as if she’d anticipated the question.

            “All of them were your favorite?”

            Elliston Francis set his creations in front of the kids and let them to their conversation.

            “In a way,” she answered.

            Ferris sipped on his shake. “In a way?”

            Her finger traced the lip of her cup. “Well, I believe that every poet, and person for that matter, has an idea etched into their bones. It’s an idea that they’re always scraping or tearing at themselves for. It’s an idea that they’ll never truly reach.” She stirred her glass. “But that they scrape for it, make the attempt, that’s beautiful.”

            Ferris stayed silent for a moment. “You talk older than we are.”

            “Is that a bad thing?” she asked.

            “I can’t say it is,” Ferris said after a sip.

            The crack of a firework exploding burst from outside of Francis’ Fountain.

            “What the hell?” Elliston muttered. “Will you two hold down the fort?” he asked Ferris and B. “Don’t let these old timers behind the counter; they’re quicker than you’d think.” he whispered before exiting.

            Ferris craned his neck, trying to look through the shoppe’s frosted glass window.

            “Hey!” B. snapped at an older man reaching for a dish of mint patties next to the register. “Ferris, join me.” 

            The two stood guard behind the counter. They were surrounded by trays of fruits, both canned and fresh, bottles of flavored syrups, including several different types of chocolate, and plenty of gummy bears, worms, sharks, and penguins. The fountain’s options seemed infinite; they caught a glimpse into Elliston and to how one could lose their self to new creations.

            The door opened. Ferris demeanor dropped.

            “Sevies,” he said lowering his voice. “I hate these guys.”

            Elliston Francis wrangled in three seventh graders from the sidewalk, Shane Winestock, Nole Lipston, and Kennedy Davies; the boys playing with fireworks.

            “You stay put, the three of you,” Elliston said, huffing. “I’ll get the mop and bucket. You’re lucky I’m giving you that.  I should send you out with toothbrushes to scrub off that rocket residue.”

            The three seventh graders snickered.

            “Quiet,” Elliston demanded as he walked into the broom closet.

            It was rare to see the shoppe’s owner in such a poor mood. Ferris kept a light eye on the older boys.

            B.’s voice was airy, “Distracted?”

            “Distracted?” Nole Lipston mimicked in a high pitched register.

            Elliston sloshed the mop bucket in front of the boys, water spilling on their shoes. “I thought I said quiet. Now go take care of your fun. This is your one chance, your one freebie. Don’t mess it up.”

            The seventh graders, even upon discipline, were raucous as they went to work.

            With the boys gone, Ferris took B.’s hand. “Thanks for the shakes, Mr. Francis. We should be going.”

            Elliston stood from setting a towel over the water that had spilled. “You two look good behind there. Heck, I was starting to think I could retire; the shoppe would be in capable hands.”

            “When would we have time to practice for our square dance?” B. said lightly.

            “Criminy! They’re still doing that? This town,” Elliston said in disbelief.

            “Traditions,” B. shrugged.

            “Traditions indeed, Ms. Harpeth.”

            Ferris guided B. from the counter to the back door of the slim shoppe. Elliston stopped him before he could leave.

            “Yes, Mr. Francis?” he asked.

            “Could I get a hand in the cooler before you go?”

            B.’s gentle grip released Ferris.

            What little there was for a storage cooler was filled with a surplus of sweeties. There was hardly enough space for one person to fit comfortably; with two people, the cooler wasn’t much more than a sardine tin.

            “What help could you need in here?” Ferris asked.

            “None, actually.” Elliston fidgeted a small handful of playful explosives out of his rear pocket. “I took these from those boys. I want you to have them.”

            Ferris couldn’t believe his eyes. “I...don’t think you should be giving me those.”

            “You won’t be foolish with them,” Elliston said confidently.

            “I won’t?” the boy questioned.

            Elliston Francis placed the small batch of fireworks in Ferris’ hand. “I don’t think you will.” 

            A small twitch ran across Ferris’ shoulders. He didn’t know if it was from the cold air of the cooler or from the excitement of the fireworks.

            “Hey!” B. Harpeth’s voice snapped from behind the counter.

            Ferris and Elliston ran out from the cooler to see B. snatching a mint patty from the would-be-thieving old timer sitting by the register.

            “Come on, Carl!  They’re three cents,” Elliston cried. “Three cents.”

            B. grabbed Ferris’ hand, dashing him out of the store. She took them off in a full sprint down Old Main Street.

            “Why are we running?” he asked.

            She didn’t answer; she kept his hand tight.

            Old Main played route to the majority of Walton-Henry’s small businesses. Ferris and B. passed all the best the town had to offer. They squeezed through the alley between Damson Dentistry and Damson Barber, both owned by the Damsons. Coming out from the passage, they momentarily divided a family trying to enter Orchid Creamery, a farmer’s diner; B. whispered an apology.

            Ten yards ahead of them was a rundown train track.

            “If a train was coming,” B. started, “would you jump on?”

            “Where is it going?” Ferris asked, running out of breath.

            “Knowing spoils the adventure. Would you jump?”

            “If you’re going, yes.”

            “And if I wasn’t?” she asked, slowing their run.

            Ferris put his hands on his head, expanding his lungs. “Then it wouldn’t be an adventure.”

            The fifth graders took a moment at the defunct tracks to catch their breath. Ferris knew the date was nearing its end; it was a quarter to five and the sun had mostly set. Nerves hit him; he grew up knowing kisses followed dates, but at 11-years-old, he’d never kissed anyone, let alone B. Harpeth, before. He felt a small heat trace his hairline.

            B. kissed his cheek; she always seemed two-steps ahead of him. “You could walk me home.”

            Ferris dusted the track soot off of his jeans and extended his hand. “Mhmm,” he said.

            In several blocks, they reached the entrance of Mavenwood Circle, the cul-de-sac where both Ferris and B. lived. They passed Ferris’ house on the way to the B.’s; hers was dead center.

            Ferris stopped at her driveway. “So... are we--”

            B. put her index finger over his lips. “Knowing spoils the adventure.”