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The Pale Blue Sky

by Jack Lynch

Part 1 - Carey and Connor, Chapter 1

Friday. It Was Him.

He was wasting time scanning an old movie magazine when he vaguely heard the bell tinkling.

The door to the pinball arcade brushed open. It was another lazy afternoon. The dog days of August. Not bothering to look up, he heard a pair of feet shuffling up to the counter. A hand clutching two quarters was placed on the counter in front of him. Yawning while he tried to rub the boredom out of one eye, he looked up.

It was him. That boy.

Before he even saw his face he saw his light blond hair. It was long, down to his shoulders. Chaotic in a cute way. Some parts looked like a careless attempt had been made to run a comb through it. Other parts were just a tangle. Thick on the top; silky as it fell across his forehead into his eyes. Although his hair was mostly straight, soft curls fell across his shoulders.

By habit Carey Sterling swept the quarters to the left onto a tray with the other change. With the index and middle fingers of his right hand he swept two tokens from the tray to his right and placed them in front of the boy. Shrugging his shoulders, he grabbed two more tokens and added them to the first two. My treat, he said, but only to himself.

The boy stared down at the four tokens. His eyes widened for a moment. He looked up at Carey with a questioning expression briefly before breaking into a wide smile.

It was as if the angels in heaven sang out with a glorious "ahhhh!" That's the kind of smile it was. High cheek bones. A dimple on his left cheek, pointy chin and a pug nose. Crooked teeth. One of his bicuspids was coming in on top of the eye tooth next to it. The crooked teeth just made his smile even more adorable. Almond shaped eyes, long blond eyelashes and almost invisible eyebrows. The eyes. The eyes! Twinkling and dancing. The color of a pale blue sky.

Just one word: "Thanks!"

The boy grabbed the tokens, took one skip and, in a walk-run, made a beeline to the Addams Family pinball machine. Carey watched him go, his blonde curls bobbing up and down on his shoulders. He shoved two tokens into the machine and bent over to push the reset button.

Da da da..da, snap, snap! Da da da…da, snap, snap! As The Adams Family theme song signaled the beginning of the game, Carey watched the boy standing ready to play and recalled the first time.

It had been just a few days earlier. On that particular day, Carey's head was also down as he flipped the pages of a throwaway paperback book. Bells dinging, flippers flipping, pinball machine music playing, and the "thunk, thunk" of extra balls being awarded brought his attention to what was happening in the pinball arcade.

He looked up to see the arcade bustling with ten or twelve kids, all boys, playing the machines while they yelled, laughed, and cheered each other on. The change machine that converted currency to tokens ran almost non-stop. Carey smiled to himself. What were these boys? Twelve? Thirteen? Varying sizes and shapes. Some were still boys. Others had already begun the journey into puberty. Long legs, some voices already changing, others still high pitched. They were all dressed in the same tween-teen clothes. A t-shirt, maybe two, one over the other, long baggy shorts, dark socks, oversized athletic shoes. Each boy was wearing at least two or three rope bracelets.

Big black canvas bags were piled on the floor in the middle of the arcade. Hockey bags. Easy to figure. Hockey sticks were wound through the handles of several of them. Looking at the boys again, he saw the hair. Almost every kid had long hair down to or past his shoulders. Some wore their hair even longer, down to the middle of their backs. Definitely hockey players.

Carey sighed and took short stock of where he was. He'd taken this summer job working at the pinball arcade to fill the days and make a little cash. Not that he needed it. He'd come into some money and really didn't have to work. But, when he returned to his home town after finishing his sophomore year in college, he decided to get his own place instead of moving back in with his parents. Nothing against them but he just wanted a little space. The apartment fell into his lap. It was meant to be. With hardly any effort, he found a furnished sublet. The apartment's permanent tenants were off to Mexico to teach scuba diving for the summer.

The job came his way just as easily. He'd found it by simply walking by the place one day. The old storefront was an unlikely location for a game arcade but it seemed to work. It was in a small commercial strip in an older neighborhood around the corner from his apartment. The arcade, with pinball machines instead of video games, was retro just like the rest of the neighborhood.

The place was owned by an IT guy who restored pinball machines as a hobby. After his obsession filled the basement and garage of his home his wife gave him an ultimatum. Divest or divorce. To placate her, he found a storefront to rent. In an earlier life, it had been a women's boutique. After having the interior demoed and the scars of the old store covered with a thin coat of white paint, he moved fifteen machines in and hung up a sign.

He did the bare minimum necessary to run it. When Carey stumbled in, he was positively relieved. Hired on the spot, he was given keys, a deposit bag, and a book of bank deposit slips. After showing Carey where the bathroom was, how to get the lights on, and a five minute tutorial on how to cash out the machines, he disappeared. Carey was in charge. The owner stopped by every once in awhile to check in and tinker around. In the first six weeks, business started out slow and then rose to a steady pace with no real effort on anyone's part. Since there wasn't much to do, Carey spent most of the day reading books and magazines. His perch was on a stool behind the counter left by the previous tenant.

The arcade had many of the most popular machines like Star Trek, Indiana Jones, and The Twilight Zone. But, The Addams Family pinball machine generated the most business by far. From Thing's mechanical hand that picked up balls to strategically placed ramps, it was a magnet for players. The spooky voices had even been recorded by the original cast of the movie just for the game. Today was no different. Carey observed four boys gathered around the game, two on each side, as they watched a fifth boy play. That boy.

Even though he could only see him from the back and the side, Carey could tell he was cute. He was one of those boys lagging a bit behind in maturity. Five foot three or so, he was slender with long blond hair and pink skin. As he jammed the palms of his hands into the flipper buttons, his slim hips rocked slightly from side to side. Once in awhile he would shake the hair out of his face. He was dressed just like the other boys: neutral colored tank top over a pale gray beefy t-shirt. His long cargo shorts gave way to white athletic shoes that must have been at least one size too big.

The other boys were boisterously cheering the kid on. Carey could see he was racking up serious points and winning extra balls.

He heard them shouting "Wa scores!" "Go Wa-wa!" Interspersed with those yells they urged him on by yelling "Go Con!" or "Go Connie!"

Abruptly, all the boys dropped what they were doing, grabbed their hockey bags and sticks and ran out the door in a stampede. It was if they had received some secret radio signal. The boy remained until the last, unable to tear himself away from the game. Finally, he stepped back and, with a last glance at his score, grabbed his bag and followed his teammates. As he picked up the bag, Carey saw the name Roy embroidered on the side with a number 7 patch sewn on next to it.

After they left, Carey stepped away from the counter and went to the window to watch the trail of boys running along the sidewalk on the way up the hill. They were obviously headed to the hockey arena a couple of blocks away.

Refocusing his eyes he examined his own reflection in the glass window. Just turned 20. 5'10," 140 pounds. Slender bordering on skinny. Fair skin indicative of his Anglo-Irish-Danish-Scottish-mutt background. Light brown hair, kind of taupe-ish, cut short and neat, parted on the side, slightly over the ears, short bangs. Brown eyes. Fine features. A wider nose but still not very big. Thin lips. Narrow square jaw. No beard. In fact, hardly any body hair at all except on his legs. Fine boned like a swimmer although he was hardly that.

As the boy ran up the hill last, weighted down on one side by the heavy bag, Carey again watched the blond hair bouncing just off of his shoulders. Hmmm…something about that boy.

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