Cleaning her last table before getting off work, Tracy gazed longingly out the western windows as the evening sun fell behind the shops and parking lots across Bryant Irvin Road. She felt drawn to the lake that waited somewhere under that sun, both by the cool wind that she knew would be blowing across it tonight as well as by the full moon that would set its rippled surface alight with quicksilver. There were so few beautiful places in Fort Worth and so little time to get to enjoy them; she was glad her father had shown her the Benbrook Dam before he died. She only wished that she now had someone to share it with.
Her mother was too busy, of course, or what passed for busy in her world of the Northside bars. Tracy's older brothers couldn't care less about such things, being wrapped up in their own problems with their families. What friends Tracy still had from high school had also gotten married and so had little time or inclination for simple recreation, and her coworkers at Flanagan's had never welcomed her into their dysfunctional version of a family.
What frustrated her the most, however, was trying to drag her boyfriend, Mark, away from his video games or ESPN long enough to go anywhere, let alone out to the lake. She had gotten him there once, last Fall, but the weather had been cold, the wind blustery, and he had fumed the whole time, bored out of his skull. If only they lived near the ocean, at least there would always be pretty girls for him to look at.
Yet, she couldn't give it up. It was the only place where she didn't feel pushed or stretched out. It was the only connection she still felt with her father. If she had to go there alone, then hopefully it was just a small risk for small moments of peace.
She clocked out without answering her manager's halfhearted farewell. No doubt, his mind was already sizing up the after dinner crowd and estimating how much the bar might make with its new drink specials. The other waitresses waved goodbye, but Sandy, the hostess, barely noticed her leaving. That's good, because Tracy was still carrying one of her pens in her shirt pocket. A minor break of the Commandments, that, but for once she didn't feel guilty about it. All in all, Tracy was glad that she didn't have to work the full night shift. She could use the money, but money wasn't what she wanted.
Outside, the air was still uncomfortably warm in the parking lot, but the strong southern breeze confirmed her prediction of a cooler night. The sun was invisible behind the mini-malls, but not quite set. As she drove out of the lot and onto Bryant Irvin, she caught a few strikingly golden rays. Only a few blocks south to Dirk's Road and a short, swervy drive around down to, then beside, the massive embankment, and she'd be at the dam. There, she could forget the city's heat and all the emotions that boiled inside it.
She had never told anyone that the restaurant's proximity to Benbrook Lake was the main reason that she'd taken the job. She figured that one would have cared anyway.
The drive was short, less than five minutes, but the transition between retail outlet chain stores, bars, restaurants, and the sea of houses to the towering, grassy levee and immense open space before the concrete spillway spoke of a much greater distance. She felt the separation deeply and welcomed it, turning finally onto the dirt drive up to the top of the spillway with a familiar relief. She had just barely beaten the sunset, and couldn't wait to see the colors change on the water and the clouds as the light faded.
Once she reached the top of the spillway, the horizon opened up and showed no obstructions across the whole width of the water. She stood at the railing, her hair lifting with the wind, and offered a silent prayer of thanks. It was a small gift, and she wasn't sure anymore who she should be thanking; but every time she saw the lake before her, the prayer came, nevertheless. The sun was just disappearing between the trees in the woods to her right. That meant only a few minutes remained before the moon would rise over the flank of the dam to her left, so she sat Indian-style on the bare concrete to wait for it with the memory of her father keeping her company.
Throughout the last Spring and Summer, she had watched the lake rise with the unusually heavy rains, and even had gotten caught out in the storms more than once. Normally low enough that the water didn't even reach the base of the levee at this end, the lake's surface now lapped at the stone less than ten feet below the lower level of the spillway. If the rains held for many more months, and the river was allowed to fill it, she may get the rare chance to see the lake spill over. Her father told her that he had seen it only once, that it was so uncommon because the flow along the local rivers was strictly regulated to insure a steady water supply yet protect against flooding, but she still believed such forces of nature were not so easily held back. Knowing that a cascading spillway might mean trouble for others, she couldn't pray for that, but she could hope.
As the sky darkened in profound waves of blue and violet, the road below the dam was occasionally lit by the headlights of cars going by, but Tracy ignored them. Police had stopped to talk to her before, warning her that the spillway was off limits at night, but they had never ticketed her and eventually left her alone, apparently realizing that she meant no harm. Sometimes, she encountered other people here, but they invariably left soon after nightfall. Whenever that happened, though, she felt a pang of jealousy, as she had come to see the spot as hers alone.
No one else drove up to the spillway before the stars came out, so she was able to fully open her mind to the beauty of the moon as it rose beyond the horizon and spilled silver onto the water. As inevitably as the prayer had come to her before, a tear rolled down her cheek, and she wondered if it also sparkled in the moonlight.
The moon looked far too large against the distant shore to be in its rightful place, yet Tracy felt so grateful for the sight that she would not have minded if it had fallen to the earth and crushed everything under it. But the feeling passed, as it always did. The moon had come up later than she expected, and so she was late to be going home. Mark would be calling her soon, probably angry, because he knew that this was the only other place she would be this late in the evening and didn't like it.
With a last scan of the lake, now a ghostly mix of wavering reflections of lights from houses on the far shore and the still rising moon, she turned to walk back down to her car. When she got in and tried to start it, however, the engine wouldn't turn over. She tried it several times, pumping the gas and even jiggling the gear shifter, but it would do nothing beyond emit a hollow clicking sound. Frustrated, she pulled her cell phone out of her purse and called Mark. He was angry, of course, although it was obvious by his tone that he was trying to hide it. Not only was he angry, but he was already at work, having been called in to the hospital to fill in for another intern who was sick. Tracy uttered, "Shit," as there was no telling when he might get off. In a way, though, she was relieved that he wouldn't be the one to come help her. She ended the call as quickly as possible, assuring him that she would try her mother next, then did so. Her mother sounded genuinely concerned, mostly because she had no idea that Tracy had been going out to the dam at night, but also because she couldn't help, either. She had put her car into the dealership for repairs after a teenager had sideswiped her at the grocery store several days earlier. Tracy said, "shit," again, more loudly; she should have remembered the fender bender. Before her mother could comment on the cursing or accost her with more animated concern, Tracy told her that she would try Bill, her oldest brother, next, and cut off the call with a sharp "Bye." When she keyed in her brother's number, however, the phone's screen flickered, then went blank. She shook it, which made it blink a few times, but then it blacked out altogether and wouldn't come back on. Remembering how many times she had dropped it in the last year or so, she understood that it had finally run out of luck. Suddenly bursting with frustration, she yelled, "Shit!" and slammed the phone against her steering wheel, which responded with a honk loud enough to startle her.
Tracy took a minute to think about her situation. There were some fast food restaurants only a couple miles away up on highway 377, but she didn't want to leave the relative safety of the car. Her mother would be calling Bill to find out what was happening, so he should be on his way soon, regardless. Then she remembered that Bill had told her a month before, the last time that they had spoken, that he and his family would be going to the Arbuckles in Oklahoma on a weekender. If that was to be this weekend, then her mother would call 911 next. The thought of that much embarrassment drove her out of the car.
Standing beside her car in the dark and looking toward the road leading to 377, however, she couldn't force herself to start walking. It didn't look all that far, but cars kept passing along Dirk's Road, and she didn't want to even think about the kind of people who were driving this route at night. If anything, she was sure that her mother would be calling someone to help her. She finally decided to wait for the police, AAA, another of her brothers, or whoever her mother goaded into taking the trouble. Tracy didn't really want to be anywhere else, after all, so she walked back up to the top of the spillway and resumed her vigil over the silent lake.
She didn't have to wait long, however, because less than five minutes later a pair of headlights shone on the railing around her, and she turned to see a dark pickup trundling awkwardly up the dirt lane. Seeing that it wasn't anyone she knew, much less police or park security, Tracy became very nervous very fast and looked around for ways out. She could go along the top of the levee back toward Fort Worth, but that way was much farther than the road to the highway. There was no chance for her to go straight across the spillway, though, because of its channel split. Behind her was only the stony inner side of the levee and the lake. She was as good as trapped.
The pickup looked to be carrying three people in its cab, but when it stopped just beyond her car and its passengers started getting out, she saw more coming from the rear. She breathed slightly easier when at least one person proved to be a girl, but even in the dim moonlight Tracy could see that this one was wearing the skimpy outfit of a punk rocker or goth. Altogether, there were five, two girls and three boys, all around high school age. And all were walking directly toward Tracy, giving her car only a cursory glance in passing.
Tracy stood up on the still-warm concrete at the top of the spillway, ready to run if necessary, but realizing that would be futile, as the youths started up the front of the levee. Most of them were talking, the girl in the miniskirt quite loudly, but none seemed to take much notice of Tracy. Then the shortest of the three boys spoke to her directly.
"Hey, what's going on?" Both girls snickered, and the boy who had gotten out of the back of the truck echoed them. The boy wearing a cowboy hat, the driver, peered at her, but said nothing, then lowered his eyes to watch where he stepped.
"Nothing." Her throat was too tight to say much else. Leaning partway over to use his hands to assist his ascent, the speaker came faster than the others and so reached the top first. He stopped some ten feet away from Tracy.
"Well, it's a nice night for it." Surprisingly, he punctuated it with a lopsided grin. "We didn't expect anybody else out here, but then we usually go to Rocky Creek Park."
"Yeah, apparently, they've closed that down, the fuckers." This from Cowboy Hat. Miniskirt and her girlfriend (the two were holding hands the whole time) added vulgar agreement, while the quiet one hung back until the rest made it to the top.
"I don't go to the other parks," Tracy offered as explanation for her ignorance. The first speaker took up the conversation again.
"Kevin and I used to go to the Pit, but they raided that years ago. By the way, I'm Derek." Before she could return the introduction, however, he asked, "You ever hang out at the Pit?"
"No. And I'm... Tracy." So. She'd given them her name. She could have lied, but they could have found out from her license if it came to that. She had to swallow, and it hurt. She distinctly heard Miniskirt whisper "She wouldn't go to the Pit." to her girlfriend.
"Well, howdy, Tracy. This cowpoke here is Kevin, our resident evil vampire is Lizzie, her pet kittie is Linda..." He trailed off in laughter as Lizzie said, "Fuck you," and Linda added, "Dickhead!" while trying to kick him. He dodged her as the last unnamed one burst into laughter. "...and Mr. Happy is none other than Frederick Allan Mosley, the third."
"Al. Call me Al," he got out while coming between Kevin and the girls to give Derek a solid punch in his upper chest. It was a glancing blow, however, obviously by design, and Derek only jumped back with a yelp.
"He's the lead singer in our band, " Kevin said, as if she had asked.
"Just the two of them. It's not really a band," Lizzie retorted, "Just two idiots who get on stage to play covers."
"Yeah, badly," immediately tacked on by Linda.
"Where do you play?" In spite of her tense nature, Tracy was calming down rather quickly. These seemed to be nothing more than some friends out having fun.
"in their bedroom," Lizzie spouted instantly. Linda and Kevin guffawed equally loudly while Al leered in her direction. Kevin got out a disgusted "Ha," then shook his head. Al took up the slack.
"Just the local clubs. The Rail, the Hi Hat. Sometimes we get to the Basement in Dallas, but it's hard to get gigs out there."
"Yeah, you've got to be good," another sharp jab by Lizzie. Tracy thought that there must be some heavy tension between the two.
"Fuck off, Lizzie. And you, too, Linda. Her name's really Regan; she just doesn't like it."
"You wouldn't either, Frederick."
While Al and the girls bickered, Kevin reached into the back pocket of his jeans, pulled out, and handed to Tracy a palm-sized, orange piece of paper printed on one side with something that she couldn't read in the darkness. She wanted to ask him what it was, but he had reentered the fray. She stuffed it in the same shirt pocket as her stolen pen.
"All of you fuck off. I came out to drink. I told you that I didn't want to hear any of your shit tonight. You could have stayed home for that. I'm not even sure why I still bring you out, Lizzie." All this from Kevin, in a rush that took Lizzie off guard. Derek seemed amused. Because of drinking reference, Tracy noticed the bulging backpack that Al must have been carrying all along.
Lizzie wasn't about to let his comment go without an answer. She grabbed Linda around the neck and forced her down the few inches between them, then kissed her fiercely and for a long enough time to make Tracy turn away. With her eyes closed, she heard, "That's why you bring me out."
Tracy looked back in their direction, fully expecting some negative reaction from Linda, but the taller girl was only panting and staring at Lizzie with an expression somewhere between a pride and admiration. Admiration!
Kevin visibly ignored the two girls, instead nodding sideways at Al, who brought up the backpack. Tracy could barely keep up with everybody's actions, much less understand them, but it seemed to her that some small crisis had passed.
"Well, so, you know our modus operandi," Derek directed at Tracy, "What are you doing up here where the freaks hang out? You don't look like a serial killer, and that's about the only other kind of people you're going to meet out here." By 'other kind' did he mean other than themselves or other than her?
"I come out sometimes to watch the sunset." After a long hesitation while watching Al begin to hand out cans of 'Lite' beer, she added, "I can't get my car started, though. And then my cell died." Suddenly, she wanted to kick herself for mentioning her phone. She hadn't needed to do that! Derek listened attentively, however.
"You need a jump?" he asked. "Kevin's got cables."
"I don't know. It won't turn over. It just clicks, but the lights and everything are out."
"You need a jump. You've probably got a bad connection or a bad alternator. Just give us a few minutes and we'll get you out of here." This was from Kevin, who, by some inscrutable message sent between Derek and himself, apparently had agreed to help her.
For some reason, she looked from him back to Derek, who was making a 'Hey, why not?' expression. The girls were with Al; Lizzie was wrestling with him over the backpack. Now, she was just being playful?
"Come on," she was telling him, "I paid for half of that."
"Yeah, but you didn't buy it, though." He easily snatched it away from her, but she went back for it amazingly fast. He nearly stumbled back down the side of the levee.
"Hey! Don't kill each other before I get one of those," from Derek.
"See? Derek gets one first." He pushed her away long enough to get one out, then thrust it toward Derek. Surprisingly, he looked directly at Tracy and asked if she wanted one.
"No, uh... thanks." She didn't like beer and didn't drink much in any case. He had been distracted by Lizzie, however, who was taking the opportunity of his outstretched arm to dig into the pack. From the side, even at the odd angle her face was in, Tracy could see that she was beaming with mirth. Linda, on the other hand, was now standing to one side, waiting impatiently.
As Derek took the beer from Al, Kevin spoke to Tracy again. "Come on. Let's see about your POS while these monkeys work out their differences." He started down the levee at a good pace without waiting. Again, for some unknown reason, she turned to Derek, who began to follow. Puzzled about herself now as much as about them, she fell in line.
Did she expect him to speak after each of the rest because he had been the first? Had she automatically taken him as the leader, despite the fact that Kevin had driven the pickup and that Al seemed to be the oldest? She didn't understand it, but whenever Lizzie or Kevin spoke, her attention naturally went to Derek. She had to remind herself what Al's and Linda's 'real' names were, but she sensed something special about the other three right away. Watching Kevin and Derek take swigs of beer while walking ahead of her to the vehicles, she shook her head in astonishment at her own interest in them. She was lucky that they hadn't beaten her or something worse. They still might, for all she knew. They were nothing like Mark or her old friends from high school; they were the type of people she had especially avoided all that time. Partiers. They probably smoked pot, too. Yet, she was going to trust them to fix her car? She was going to trust them. These two, at least.
In a flash, she realized: she did trust them. She could not have said why, though.
Nearing her car, Derek fell back as Kevin went on to his truck. "You know, I used to come out here on my scooter last year and sit on the dam," he said, softly. "It pissed my mom off, but she keeps odd hours also." He leaned up against her driver side door and took another sizable pull off of the can. She noticed that he looked directly at the moon when he finished.
"My dad used to bring me here when when I was little," she offered. Again, without knowing why. "He died of cancer last November."
"I'm sorry," he said, his eyes now rooted to her face. "My dad died in a motorcycle accident just before I was born." With that, he looked away with a sweep of his can in front of her. "Oh, wow," he added, "I can't believe I just told you that. I never tell people that."
"Here we go. If you'll move your ass, we can get her home safe," interjected Kevin, who had walked up with a set of jumper cables while she and Derek were talking. Derek complied, and Kevin tried the door, which was unlocked. After leaning in and looking around the dark dashboard for a few seconds, he asked, "Where's the hood release on this thing?"
"Here, I'll get it. The handle broke off before I bought it, but I haven't used it much, myself." She edged in under Kevin, who held the cables up to let her pass, then moved around to the front of the car. She reached for and found the release knob, or what was left of it, and pulled. It came with her second try and popped the hood up promptly.
Kevin glanced around the engine compartment, although he surely couldn't see anything in the mere moonlight. He laid the cables on the engine and backed away with a satisfied shake of his head, however.
"Okay, Loverboy, keep your maiden in distress happy while I pull around the truck. I think we've got plenty of space." The last was plainly meant as a joke, as her car was facing south and had the full length of grassy area between Dirk's Road and the dam beside it. At least half a square mile of flat space.
As if by rote, she then turned to Derek, wondering what he might say next. He had moved over to the rear driver's-side door, and was leaning against it like before, staring at the moon. He seemed to sense her gaze and looked at her with a simple smile.
"I'm glad the clouds blew off. I came out tonight to see the moon." That said, he returned his attention to the sky.
Tracy thought she understood why she trusted him. It was because she knew it had been his idea to come to this place. Somehow, she knew that Kevin and the others had wanted to go to Rocky Creek, but Derek had wanted to come here. The thought was overwhelming, but she was certain.
"Derek," she said, almost as a question.
He turned to her with a "Hmm?"
"Do you play video games?"
"Me? No. I haven't had a game... console since I wrecked my Atari." His expression was amused curiosity. When she didn't immediately follow up, he added, "I've always been more of an outside person. That's why I had a scooter. Which unfortunately got stolen just a few months ago. Last Fall, as a matter of fact." His expression was more serious now, and even in the bad light, she could see his eyes searching hers until she had to turn away.
Kevin interrupted again, bringing a hang-light from his truck, that he had just driven up beside her car. "Okay, kiddies," he said jovially, by now clearly confident of his ability to get her car started, "Get out of the way, or I'll start using these as a defibrillator."
Tracy and Derek moved away from the vehicles practically in step with one another. Tracy reminded herself that she had only just met this boy who must be, after all, a year or two younger than she, but couldn't help thinking that she almost knew what he was going to say next. When he did speak, it was so close to what she wanted him to say that she became nervous again.
"You know, I'm thinking of buying a regular motorcycle next. I've still got most of what the insurance company gave me for my scooter. I figure I could buy an old Gold Wing or Yamaha for a few hundred, get the Chilton, and fix it up. I guess you could say whoever stole my scooter was really just nudging me on to the next thing." Holding her breath as steady as she could, Tracy decided to take another chance with him.
"Have you ever thought about taking a trip around the country?" She smiled nervously. "I mean without any plans. You know, just leave and go to a hundred places you haven't been before?" Derek was looking down toward his feet now, his expression very serious.
"Ohhh, yeah. You don't even know."
"I think I do," before she could stop herself.
"Iii... hate to bother you at such a tender moment, but the horses are harnessed and waiting for the strop." Kevin, either with uncannily good or bad timing, broke the moment again.
"What do we do?" she asked, as she had never been through this before.
"Just get in and give'er a go. I'll tell you when. By the way, what'd you name your little lame filly?"
Tracy tiptoed over the splayed cables and got into her car. "Oh, um... hunh?" she asked. Name?
"Your car," Derek clarified for her, "What's your car's name?"
What an odd idea, she thought. "I haven't named it. I didn't know you were supposed to."
"Well, of course," from Derek again, "it's got a personality, doesn't it?" Now that it was pointed out to her, she had to admit that it definitely acted like it.
"I never thought about it like that."
"I tell you what, here. Let me christen it for you." While she and Kevin watched; she, astonished, and Kevin, bemused, Derek held his beer can up and back like a champaign bottle from an old newsreel, then brought it down against the front driver's-side fender, crushing it and spraying suds several feet in every direction. She laughed as loudly as Kevin did. From above on the spillway, she heard a girl's voice holler in approval. Lizzie.
"There you go, now name it. I mean... name him."
"Cars are named after girls, just like ships, dumbass," from Kevin, who was now waiting in his truck. Tracy understood, though. This had been her father's car. Graham Winfield's car. And somehow Derek knew that. Well, her father had had a nickname in high school that he told her about. He had loved high school in a way that she had never understood.
"This car's name is Grammy."
Kevin threw up his hands with a feigned look of disgust. "What the hell kind of name is that?" he asked mockingly.
"It's perfect," Derek countered, offering her a few solid seconds of eye contact.
"H'okay, let's get Grammy going again before I drown in all this mush."
"What? Should I just try to start it?" Tracy asked, not seeing him do anything besides sit in his truck, which had been running ever since he'd gotten into it.
"Yeah, try it once. If you've just got a dead battery, we'll try it again in a few minutes, but differently...Anyway, just turn it over."
She turned the key, but it just clicked somewhere under the dash like before. For a second, she didn't think it would work. On the second try, the dome light and dash lights suddenly came back on while the engine roared. Startled, she let the key go, and it stopped. The dash and dome lights stayed on, however, so she tried again. This time, it started with no problem.
"Ha!" She exclaimed. "You did it!" In front of
"Leave it on," Kevin yelled as he got out of his truck, "I have to unhook the cables."
She raised her hands in the universal 'hold up' gesture and smiled openly at Derek. "I'm not touching a thing."
When Kevin was finished, he came back around to her door.
"It's pretty much as I figured. I think you've got a break in your electrical system somewhere, because it wasn't really your battery that was dead. I don't have a voltmeter with me to make sure, though. We really just caught good luck that it reconnected. They do that sometimes when the system's hot."
He was looking at her like he expected a reply, but she had been too lost to do more than nod. So, there's a broken wire somewhere? He went on.
"So. You'd better go straight home and grab a real mechanic, because this'll more than likely happen again. Soon. And then, the battery might really be dead." She supplied him with more nods.
"Okay. I'll do that," She didn't want to leave now, however. Especially since she'd met Derek. He looked like he didn't want her to go, either. She couldn't help letting some pain show on her face. Kevin didn't seem to notice.
"You'll be good. You're not going too far, right?" And, at her vacant nod, "Cool. It should hold together for a few miles. Sorry, Grammy should hold together. Jeez." He turned away dramatically to allow Derek some room. Instead of coming around the still-open door, however, Derek leaned on it and gently pushed it closed. She was lucky that she had driven here with all the windows down. Looking up at him, regardless of the fact that his eyes were now in deep shadow, she could almost see his next words written in them.
"So, I guess it'll be a couple of days before you can make it up here again?"
"I'll try to come out tomorrow, but I'm not sure I can if I have to get a ride to work. I just work at... "
"I've already promised these sorry bastards that I'd watch them play tomorrow night. Should we try for Sunday?"
Tracy nodded. She would work something out. But wasn't there something else she could do?
"Alright, then," he seemed to finish, pulling away.
"Wait," she blurted, "Do you have a cell? Mine's messed up, but if you give me your number... "
"I don't have one. None of us do, really. I could give you my home number, though. Do you have a pen?"
Remembering the one she now owed her hostess at work, and all the other little steps that led up to this moment, she had to fight back more nervousness as she reached into her pocket. She still didn't know what was written on the paper Kevin had given her, but when she pulled it out, Derek pointed right at it.
"Hey, if you can get out tomorrow, you might want to come see Kevin and Al's show. It starts at ten. They're playing an unplugged set at this restaurant and lounge right around the corner from here. It's uh... "
"Flanagan's." Kevin finished for him. "It's got a bar, though. I'm not sure they'd let her in. Are you over twenty-one?"
"No, but I think I can make it." She should have been rendered speechless, but this had been the last straw. She was no longer nervous. She wasn't able to read Derek's mind well enough to know his number before he gave it to her, but when he was through, she knew exactly what he would say next.
"I'm glad I met you, Tracy. You've got me looking forward to something more than just watching the sun go down."
"And the moon rise?"
"Oh, gawd, please, you two! And you, go home before I drive you there myself."