Joey had always considered it funny that he worked at a pizza parlor. It was even funnier that his father owned it and fully planned to give it to him. Despite his first name and lineage occupation, Joey was an Euro-mutt with a dash of Irish, some German, a little bit of Norwegian and whatever else his ancestors got up to – they didn’t really pay that sort of stuff that much attention.
Still, Joey watched enough TV and read enough magazines that he felt he knew it was funny if people made the mistake of thinking he was Italian or something.
So, he enjoyed working at the parlor. Whenever Detective Williamson would come by, that was just an added bonus. There was a short time when he worked at the lumberyard, and she found a few excuses to stop by there too then.
He didn’t mind. Michelle was a close friend.
Whistling, he carefully chose the ingredients for their pizza that they’d share together. It had become some kind of tradition over the last six years during Michelle’s divorce. The routine was mutually beneficial. Joey heard the crash and bell at the same time.
He called out first. Setting down the cup of cheese, he dusted his hands off. Tightening his apron, he headed back towards the lobby.
As he got closer, his steps slowed. An apprehension crawled up his spine. He forced himself to call again, “Michelle?”
She was gone.
The door was wide open, the blinds still rustling from the wind. He walked over, stepping out to look around the street. In the distance, he recognized her car. Squinting, he walked over. There was no one inside. Yet, the engine was still on. Reaching into the open window, Joey turned the car off.
He’d keep the keys safe, though he didn’t know why that was his first inclination.
Joey wasn’t sure where Michelle had gone and that was precisely why he was worried.
Maybelline was in a meeting. It was the usual seven a.m. morning meeting for teachers and administrators. There were a number of people missing today, but that wasn’t unusual.
The superintendent’s thoughts were on other things and everyone knew it. Her curls weren’t clipped back, but hung loosely – untouched – around her plain face. Many were certain this was the first time they’d ever seen the woman without make-up.
Her clothing was a dress, a simple dress, and beach sandals instead of heels.
She kept her chin propped in the palm of her hand, staring wistfully out the window as the teachers discussed the issues of the day.
“Janice.” Administrator Harken, otherwise known as Nathan, carefully lowered a hand in a gesture to gain the attention of the weary group, “We’re having some trouble with your payroll. Something about your identification numbers not coming up? Are you putting your legal name down on your paperwork?”
The social studies teacher pulled at her red hair, braiding parts of it. She exhaled quietly, lowering her head and yawning widely. The faintest of squeaks came from her, then she said, “Yes, well, they should know I don’t want to use that name.”
Harken sighed, “And why can’t you put your legal name down until you change it officially?”
“Well, I don’t want everybody to get to know me like that.” She answered, “Like you, Nathan, would you call me Mrs. Beezle to students if you didn’t see it on my papers?”
“I don’t-“ Nathan began, but he was quickly cut off.
“No, you wouldn’t. Besides, there’s just some things that belong in the past and that is my right as a full-blooded American.” The woman stated proudly, flipping the hair she had been braiding out of her way.
Nathan tucked his graying hair behind his ear, “But why a name like Beezle if you’re making it up? You know how many kids make fun of that, right?”
“Of course I do.” She exclaimed, “Don’t you think I know how ridiculous of a name it is? But it was all I could think of when I was filling out the form for the application.” With a sigh, she placed her hands over her eyes, “I’m sorry, it’s just I don’t like my real name and it’s terribly embarrassing, but I can’t go changing it now that I have it on all my nametags and paperwork files.”
Maybelline stood up. Everybody looked at her. She walked over to the window.
Her heart was racing.
She didn’t say anything.
By the time someone got up to see what she was looking at, the truck had driven off with the student’s body.
It looked like his truck, at least.
Clutching the front of her dress, she sat back down in her chair and ignored the static noise of her staff asking her questions. She promptly fell forward, onto the desk.
“She fainted!” shouted Janice Beezle.
Carl was excited for his vacation. He had it all planned out. First, he’d finish his last shift for the next two weeks at seven a.m. Second, he’d take a shower in the gym locker room and change with the clothes he had set out in a locker. He shaved, considered cutting the mess of curls he called hair and decided he’d probably make a worse mess of it if he tried. Tying it back in a desperate ponytail, the janitor was ready to meet his date at the downtown coffeeshop.
They’d been talking online for about two months and now, she finally got a time to come down. He managed to even get Melissa out of the house! Carl felt accomplished about that one.
When he saw the text that she sent, he thought about it for a while before answering at 5:32 a.m. “I’ll leave some money for Horace in his office if you need any medicine. Feel better, but try to get to school if you can! Love, dad”
He hoped she was just faking it. Turning his phone on silent, he went to get a couple 20$ bills to put in Horace’s office. Luckily, Horace already had a couple in his desk and so, those would do. Carl moved them to the top of the desk and wrote a short note saying to call first if Melissa wanted to come to the house.
As he passed the staff meeting on his way out, he noticed that Maybelline had fainted. Lingering at the door, he wondered if there was anything he could do to help. Poor woman.
“She must be under a lot of stress.” He mentioned to Mrs. Beezle.
“Huh?” The woman looked at him with suspicious eyes, “Oh. Yes, must be.”
“Have a good day.” Carl smiled, giving her a wave and telling no one in particular, “I’ll be off now. Got a date!” The last part blurted out of him without regard.
No one paid him any mind as he left.
“It’s so stupid being here so early.” Roxy complained. The girl sipped her slushie that she had bought at the grocery mart that their father had dropped them off at.
“Dad seemed kind of strange.” Evan mentioned, as if he’d been thinking a lot about this, “Didn’t he?”
Taking a bite from a soft pretzel, Roxy shrugged, “Dad is always strange.”
Evan nodded, “I guess the house did burn down.”
“Yeah,” Roxy said flatly, “That’s gotta suck.”
“Oh.” Evan looked around Roxy briefly, then stood, “Hey!”
“Who’re you?” Roxy turned to see who Evan was calling for, “The janitor?” She looked at him, confused.
“No, it’s Melissa’s dad.” He explained.
“Oh.” Roxy nodded, going back to her breakfast.
“Hello there.” Carl greeted the siblings with a wave, “I’ve got somewhere to be, is there something the matter?” It was his first question whenever it came to the high school students.
“Nothing the matter.” Evan smiled, “Just, is Melissa here already?” He figured her dad would know.
“She says she’s sick.” Carl informed them, starting to head back on his path, “I’m sure you could text her though.”
“Oh, right.” Evan snapped his fingers, “Thanks, then.” Sitting down, he took out his phone and thumbed a text for Melissa. (“Hey, u @ skool? :P”) He felt proud of the artistic quality of his message. Putting his phone back in his pocket, he reached out and took some of the pretzel.
“Hey!” Roxy lightly punched him in the shoulder, guarding the remaining pretzel, “Get your own.”
“No way,” Evan shook his head, “Never.”
“Brr!” He quickly hugged himself, “You feel that?”
“What?” She asked.
“I got a massive chill!”
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