For LOST IN LOS ALAMOS Beta Readers Only - Please Do Not Share.
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Scott knew what small town life was like. It was a fishbowl. It was always having to remember that the guy you flipped off on the highway outside of town might work with your dad. It was an ice cream custard at a mom and pop shop on the square that somehow had survived the big box invasion. It was a summer night with cicadas buzzing and sawing the trees down as you looked out your open bedroom window hoping for any kind of breeze so you didn’t have to turn the fan on, drowning that summer anthem out.
Too bad this wasn’t summer.
Los Alamos had its small town vibe, to be sure. CookieSheet’s could have been part of that vibe, but for the scientists and big city implants of contractors requiring a higher end and exotic fast food, lattes of every flavor, and the Wall Street Journal on the counter instead of the Tractor Supply Co.’s latest sale circular.
But there was evidence aplenty, doggone-it, Scott thought, with a fake country twang in his inner voice. That he was starting to be recognized around town was the start of it. People remembered the newcomer now that he’d been there a while. When you knew pretty much where all the businesses were from one end of town to the other was a good indication you were in a small town.
That the younger women in town managed to keep that corny way of giggling and covering their mouths like Japanese schoolgirls, but not like them in the way of having learned to be forthright in their thoughts and voices living in an environment with so many people who made their lives in their own way, was somehow quite an attractive thing to Scott.
He’d sold her a bit short, Scott thought. That Bobbie Girl from the hardware store sure was as persistent as she was heavy.
“I’m fat-shaming,” Scott thought. “Can’t keep it out of the equation, though. Sorry, Bobbie Girl.”
He’d gotten looks from a number of young women in town when Scott had presence of mind enough to notice. Being filthy and tired pretty much every day and all that had gone down before he left home did not do much for his interest or libido. He was only twenty-eight, though. The hormones were still there in abundance when he had presence of mind to notice.
While Scott was aware of what day of the week it was, the really hadn't given the date any thought. So it was a surprise when Bobbie brought it up after Scott’s train of thought about her while standing in line at the hardware store.
“Whatcha doin’ tonight, Scott?” She asked, daring him to find fault with her cheery tone.
He’d gotten used to her jabbing her poker into his fire. It was like a running joke at the hardware store and Blonde Cashier went right along with it. Scott looked to her before responding to see if she held a conspiratorial or even instigating look.
“Same ol’, same ol’,” Scott said as he put more wood putty and grout mix on the register table.
“You oughta get out and celebrate!” Bobbie said, her smile turned up. She glanced over to Blonde Cashier and they raised their eyebrows together and dipped their heads. Definitely a conspiracy.
“Too much to do,” Scott defended. He could feel something coming in the tone of her voice, somehow pulling off a coquettishness he wouldn’t have thought she would have a command of.
“Give me a break,” Bobbie Girl squeaked, glancing again to Blonde Cashier. “You gotta celebrate. You never know when you’ll get the chance again.”
“My husband wanted to go to bed and sleep on New Years Eve fours years ago. I went out with our friends and he never woke up,” Blonde Cashier chimed in for the first time. Bobbie had heard the story before, so she just gave a caring smile and nod to Blonde Cashier. But Scott didn’t know what to do with that.
Scott looked to her, saw her eyes glistening despite the tight smile and her gaze challenging him. Bobbie turned back to Scott, suddenly a softer look of compassion on her round face. This threw Scott off.
“We just have a few good friends getting together at the Captains Table. It’ll be packed and you won’t stick out.”
“Too much,” Blonde Cashier snuck in with a sly smile.
“Too much, yeah,” Bobbie echoed, teasing Scott. “They’ll like you and like, they’re not obnoxious and all. It’ll be chill.”
Scott looked between the two and back at the next customer in line. He felt cornered. But he knew he needed some normalcy. And besides, Bobbie was making sense and sounding pretty normal herself.
“I probably wouldn’t make it much past midnight if even that. I’m getting old.”
Bobbie and Blonde Cashier laughed. The older man behind Scott was getting antsy.
“Go, for Christ’s sake!” he said. “I need to get out of here before I get any older, already.”
“You know where it is?” Bobbie asked, assuming Scott’s acquiescence. She finished ringing up and bagging his supplies.
Scott gave in. “Sure. I can find it.” He took the bag of items she’d handed to him.
Bobbie clapped once and jumped just a little, her plus size jiggled and she gave a smile to Blonde Cashier.
“Great! It’ll be fun. We plan to meet there at seven. You can eat there, too, if you want.” Bobbie held onto the bag as long as she could before Scott pulled it away and skated out of the store. Bobbie glowed, her porcelain cheeks flushed as she began scanning the next customer’s items and kept smiling over at Blonde Cashier who was doing the same.
That was Scott’s morning. He bowed out of the meet-up about every hour. Then capitulated. And did it over, finding a bucket of reasons why to go, and more why not to go.
And in between all of that, he visualized being found underneath the house, mummified in his winter clothes and face mask, only three Black Holes dug, after it went into bank auction because Betty couldn’t pay for it and couldn’t sell it the way it was.
He just wasn’t in the mood. He really wanted to yank up all the ratty carpet in the living room. Even the bare plywood flooring would be better than it was. That was something he could do late in the night. Didn’t take any skill to do that before passing out on The Pyre. Maybe he’d have a beer or two to mark the year’s passing.
While Scott measured the windows for the oak windowsills he wanted to make, his afternoon light passed by and he said hello, wishing it would stay longer. Soon the light faded and Scott had to turn on lights. He tried to keep them to a minimum to keep the electric bill down for Betty.
When the streetlights came on, he was working on The List at the kitchen counter. It was getting on six-thirty. Go meet Bobbie and her friends...?
“What will her friends be like?” he asked himself, imagining small town trailer trash. “That is not a very charitable thing to think, asshole!” he said aloud.
Scott looked across through the the kitchen windows. There seemed to be a lot of cars on the street that night. The outdoor lights were on at Tom’s. He hadn’t had any further interactions with him during the rest of the week after the meal he brought and borrowing the gas. He could probably go over there for the evening. Scott had no idea how they would spend New Years. Did Native Americans do anything different or some ceremony or something?
It was always irritating when he caught himself using stereotypes, slurs, and just plain ignorant words. It was pretty much automatic, though. He knew that the beginnings were growing up with the us-them, north-south, white-black distinction that was always made. He should know more about different people. He recognized himself as what he just then termed, Socially Inbred, in the way he only chilled with people like himself.
It seemed like such hard work, adjusting yourself to get along with others who you weren’t comfortable with. Easier to avoid it, Scott thought.