Chapter 8: The New Recruit
"Hey, Leah." he welcomes as she enters the car.
Leah tosses her backpack on the floor, sits on the chair, then buckles her seatbelt.
"Hey," Leah yawned. "Where is your lackey?"
"He went home," Charlie responds. "So, how was work?"
"Really?" Charlie adjusts his head to look at his miserable goddaughter. "How come?"
She stretches her arms and releases another yawn. "You know in that Disney movie Lion King where Simba gets trampled by a pack of wild buffalos?"
Charlie's smile widens like a goofy child. "Yeah. I remember when you were eight, you wouldn't stop crying about that scene."
"What? It's true!" he laughed. "Anyway, what were you saying?"
"Well, my job is like that." Leah grunts. "Except for the shocking plot twist."
Leah smoothes her brown, long-sleeved shirt with dark gray stripes. Her bellbottom pants are too big for her legs, but her black belt prevents them from going down her ankles. After lacing her military boots, Leah asks Charlie if he got some action at his job.
"Yeah." Charlie nods. "Oliver and I were chasing a stolen car, but we had to let them go."
"Why?" asked Leah.
"If I pursued them," he began. "Then I would infringe someone's case. Also, we needed to drop some punk at the police station."
"What? It's true!" Charlie chortles. "And besides, we were running out of gas."
Rolling her eyes to the ceiling, an irritated Leah asks when is he going to stop being doubtful.
"You used to tell me tons of stories about how you saved kids from a psychotic school shooter," she reminds him. "You even stopped a robbery three times. What the hell happened to you?"
Charlie expresses a sigh. "No one cares about what I do anymore."
"Oh, come on," Leah snorts. "That's not true. You used to be a legend—"
"No one cares about legends anymore, Leah." the cop states as he starts the car.
After backing out of the parking lot and drives Leah over to Scott's place. Silence flourishes like a toxic cloud, suffocating Leah and Charlie by its touch. A small thread swings from Leah's dark green corduroy jacket.
In the meantime, Charlie switches on the radio and listens to David Bowie singing "Aladdin Sane". After moving past the green light, Charlie hums the song under his breath while Leah gazes at the stars.
"Mom and Dad used to love listening to that song," she tells him. "Whenever we go on rides like this, they would play it on the stereo."
Charlie chuckles. He slows mileage in front of a moving van, not wanting to tarnish its bumper sticker. He used to be close with Leah's parents since their freshmen year in high school; they listened to music, read banned novels at the school library, and ditch their chores to buy cigarettes.
"Yeah," he sighed. "I miss them too."
Leah stops gnawing on the string then looks down at her military boots. "I can't believe they died last September."
Gritting his teeth, Charlie turns to Leah and said something that made her skin crawl. "I thought I told you not to talk about that day."
Leah circles her eyes. "Oh, come on, man. That fucking plane crash wasn't your fault. If they were here, they would have told you the same thing."
Much to the young woman's surprise, Charlie laughs in disbelief. Every time he looks at Leah, he always blames himself for their deaths. He did not know that the hijacked plane was going to crash into their office building.
What were their last words? he wondered. Did they know they would never see their precious daughter ever again? Massaging his vast forehead, Charlie tells her that discussing the past is not healthy.
"The hell do you mean it's 'not healthy'?" Leah pouts.
"I am not twelve anymore!"
Jesus Christ. the police officer thinks angrily. If she doesn't calm down, she'll act like one."
Navigating his car to the left, Charlie insists she shouldn't talk about it. Leah opens her mouth to protest until her flip phone buzzes in her bag's left pocket.
"Huh?" she murmurs. "Who the hell is calling me?"
Charlie peeks at Leah's reflection on the rearview mirror.
"Is it one of your friends?" he asks her.
Shrugging her shoulders, Leah procures the phone from her bag. Next, she hits the ANSWER button with her left button. Last, she rests the phone against her right ear.
"Hello?" asked Leah. "Who is this?"
A friendly voice replies, "It's me, Scott. Are you coming home from work?"
"Uh, yeah. Why?"
"Come over to the apartment," an excited Scott urged. "There is someone I want you to meet."
* * * *
After her godfather drops her off at her best friend's apartment, Leah races into the room to see clutter everywhere. The floor is littered with guitar notes, cigarette butts, takeout food, and crumpled paper full of lyrics. Meanwhile, the walls have old movie posters, Scott's drawings, and Polaroids of him and Leah performing in clubs.
Placing her apartment on the gray countertop, Leah peeks in the sink and cringes at the stack of dirty plates.
"Aw, come on!" she groaned. "I am not your fucking maid, Scott—"
Descending footsteps interrupt her. They belong to an uneasy young man who rushes down the carpeted stairs. His white pukka shell necklace bounces on his blue t-shirt. He brushes the creases off his stone-washed jeans, before staring at Leah with a nervous smile.
"Uh, hey." the man chuckles nervously. "I guess I have overstayed my welcome, huh?"
"Who the hell are you?" she asks him. "Are you one of Scott's stupid friends or ex-boyfriends?"
"Uh, neither?" he replies with a laugh. "My name is Rochester, but people call me Roach for short."
"I used to be a prankster in high school."
"Seriously?" Leah snickers. "Your friends call you that?"
"They sound like total shitheads."
Roach pushes his curly brown hair out of his eyes then changes the subject. "You must be Leah Clarke, right?"
She gives him a wan smile. "Scott told you about me?"
"Yeah." Roach nods shyly. "He said you used to play bass and guitar when you were in Proximity."
In response, Leah's eyes broaden like large golf balls. Her cheeks turn bold red, surprising the newcomer. Has it been that long since she heard that old name? Leah stares at Roach then asks what kind of instrument he plays.
"Whoa," said Roach, backing away from her. "Is it something I said?"
"Sorry. I guess it's been awhile since I heard that name."
"Damn." Roach moves closer to Leah then asks if she ever misses being in a band.
"Sometimes," she admits. "A rock band is like your family. You know, like you have your dad, mom, baby sisters, and big brothers."
Roach bobs his head in agreement.
"But once you get too close to your family," Leah sighed. "It gets suffocating, sometimes. You just want to, like—"
"Try to branch out and find your center." Roach finished.
"Exactly." Leah nodded. "You've been in a band before?"
"I was in a punk band once." Roach began. "But we had some creative differences."
Leah let out a whistle. "Shit. Where the hell is Scott?"
Roach points her to the dark orange retro couch, where Scott is sitting. In his hands are pieces of notebook paper and a black pen. As he jots down lyrics, Scott listens to music on his CD player.
His skin is as pale as snow; he dons a light gray Abercrombie t-shirt, while his black gym pants unveil his hairy legs. His shaven head bounces to the beat until Leah yanks his headphones away and makes a face.
"Hey!" Scott frowned. "What the fuck—"
He raises his eyes to see Leah staring down at him. "Oh, hey! It's so nice to see you."
"Nice to see me?" Leah squeaks. "I have been wandering around this crappy apartment since you fucking called me!"
Rolling his eyes, Scott turns off the CD player.
"Relax," he says. "I was in my zone."
"Anyway, have you met Rochester?"
"Yep," Leah nods stiffly. "I have met him about five minutes ago."
"Cool." Scott sets down his pages and pen then leaps off of the couch. "I have some big news! You know Big Donnie, right?"
How could Leah ever forget about Big Donnie?
During their senior year of high school, Don Chu used to be this incredible bass player Scott hired to take over Holden's spot. But once he got on stage, the poor guy had a nervous breakdown.
"Yeah, I remember Big Donnie, Scott," Leah replies. "What of it?"
Scott approaches Roach with an enormous grin then wraps his arm around the scared kid's shoulder.
"Well, good news," he added. "I have found my bass player!"
Leah blinks at Scott for a second. "Roach is your new bass player?"
Her best friend nods in excitement, while Roach blushes.
"Fuck yeah!" Scott beams. "This guy can play any song from Linkin Park to The Stooges."
"I know, right?" Scott removes his hand from Roach's shoulder and tells her to take a shower and get dressed.
Leah crosses her arms. "And why the hell would I do that?"
"Because you need to kick back and have some fun," Scott tells her. "Besides, we're probably going to meet up with old friends at the karaoke bar."
"Old friends?" Leah repeats doubtfully. "Like who?"
Scott wipes the black eyeliner paint around his green eyes. "Oh, you know," he yawned. "The one we hung out with when we were juniors?"
Leah examines her sweaty clothes then studies the small clock above the oven. Scott Abrams is a reckless piece of work, but he does have a point: when was the last time Leah had fun?
She had cut ties with her cheating ex-girlfriend, moved in with her slacker best friend, and got a job at McDonald's. Sighing, Leah tells him she'll come with them.
"Woo!" Scott hollered, pumping his enormous fist in the air. He gazes at Roach, then asks if he has any plans.
"Not really," Roach confesses. "I don't get out much."
Leah sulks a little. "Don't you have any friends?"
"Well, don't get too excited," she grunts. "The last thing I want is for you two to get arrested."
Scott does a childish pout. "Aw come on," he whined. "Since when do I always get us into trouble?"
"Since we were in high school." Leah gives Scott an affectionate punch on the shoulder and tells them to wait in the living room. "Roach, eat anything in the fridge."
Roach's smile widens. "Thanks."
"No problem," Leah tells him.
She climbs upstairs, enters her bedroom, and collects her things. According to Scott, it used to belong to his old boyfriend until he left Scott for another guy. Leah tosses her bag on the untidy bed then hurries into the small bathroom to shower. Meanwhile, the boy smoked weed then blew the gray vapor through the open window.
Roach's green eyes study Scott. "So, what's Leah's story? Does she have a boyfriend or—"
Scott's nasal laugh interrupts him."God, I can't believe you want to fuck Leah."
"Dude," Roach grunts. "I have just met her."
Toxic smoke slithers through Scott's long nose.
"So?" he scoffs. "That doesn't mean you can lock your feelings away in a scary treasure chest."
Roach rolls his eyes. "Look, she's cute and all, but I can tell that Leah seems pretty upset about something."
Sighing, Scott tosses his weed out the window and scratches the long scar across his left cheek.
"That's Leah for you," he grunts. "She can be a pain in the ass sometimes, but she is a good person."
"I heard that, asshole!"
Scott and Roach turn their heads around to see Leah finally arriving downstairs. She dons an oil black bomber jacket, a floral purple babydoll dress with a silky black coat. Her black boots gleamed like coal. Roach gawks as Leah struts past him, her perfume dances inside his nose.
"Wow, you look stunning," Scott remarked.
Roach smiles in agreement.
"Yeah, whatever," Leah blushed. She throws her purse over her shoulder and asks Scott, "What time do they want us to show up?"
"8 o'clock, I think."
"Okay," Leah smirks. "Get dressed, guys. The night is still young."
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